Why are women more likely to suffer from anxiety?

Cat Prestipino
5min read

One of the most common mental health conditions in women is anxiety. Anxiety can be a simple nervousness but it can also be a deliberating illness that affects everything in your life.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is often misunderstood. Everyone feels stress or worried sometimes but often there’s a reason, like public speaking or their mother-in-law coming to visit, and once the situation has passed, the feeling goes away.

Anxiety is when those feelings don’t go away. They’re present all the time. And what’s worse, is they don’t have a reason for appearing in the first place. There are physical symptoms that accompany anxiety like a tightening in your chest, difficulty breathing and a weak stomach. It makes it hard to think clearly, and sometimes to see or control your hands.

People with anxiety live in this constant state and it can be deliberating and overwhelming.

Why does anxiety affect more women than men?

While not exclusively a women’s health issue, anxiety affect women portionally more than men. At least 1 in 3 women experience anxiety during their lifetime (compared to 1 in five men).

Part of the reason lies with biology. We all know that hormones can cause havoc on women’s bodies. The hormones that flood our bodies to help us create and sustain life can disrupt our brain chemistry, not to mention what happens as we hit menopause and our bodies change completely again.

Women (on the whole) also respond differently to stress than men. They have increased levels of estrogen and tend to reach out to their networks to talk about their problems. This can have the unfortunate side effect of ruminating on problems and potential negative outcomes (rather than men whose testosterone has them hardwired to be better at compartmentalising and taking action).

What’s more, women are more likely to have social induced anxiety. According to Women’s College Hospital in California, women are six times more likely than men to develop a generalised anxiety disorder and twice as likely to have a phobia. Also, the most common reason for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in women is related to cleaning and cleanliness, compared to men where the most common cause is touching.

What you can do about anxiety?

Anxiety isn’t something that you should suffer alone. Society’s understanding of anxiety and its attitudes towards it are changing.

The first step should always be to talk to a GP. They’ll be able to help you understand what your next steps are and refer you to a mental health professional or discuss medication options if that’s appropriate. They’ll also be able to help treat any underlying physical conditions that might be contributing to your anxiety.

In addition, there are a number of lifestyle options that can help with symptoms of anxiety (and are probably helpful for everyone):

  • Get a good night’s sleep: you should aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night. Try not to use devices for an hour before heading to bed (the blue light from scrolling through Instagram doesn't help) and try not to drink caffeine in the afternoon. Going to bed and waking up at regular times can also help.
  • Exercise regularly: working out produce endorphins, a magic hormone that helps counteract the anxiety hormones. Do something that makes you happy like a dance class or a walk in the park. This will also help.
  • Eat well: eating a healthy, balanced diet of vegetables, fruits and whole grains (and lean meat and fatty fish if that’s your thing) will help improve your mood. You’ll also avoid any nasties in processed food that might mess with your biology.
  • Drink enough water: similar to eating well, making sure your body has enough water (don’t forget, we’re 60% water) is another way to make sure you’re in peak condition.
  • Try mindfulness techniques: there has been some research into the impact mindfulness (like yoga, meditation and breathing techniques) can have on anxiety. It can help offset stress and give you techniques to manage your body’s physical response.