Anxiety refers to both anxiety disorders, like generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, and occasional feelings of anxiety, which many people experience throughout their lives. While men and women both experience symptoms of anxiety, the nuanced differences between those two experiences must be appreciated.
Why do women experience anxiety?
Significant differences have been observed in rates of anxiety between men and women, in that anxiety has been consistently found in higher prevalence among women.
Anxiety in women can potentially be linked to unique societal experiences, including:
Pressure to keep up physical appearances
For many women, they become keenly aware of their physical appearance at a young age. Pre-teens and adolescents can struggle with being bullied, both for things they can change – like their clothes, hairstyles and accessories – and things they can’t easily change – like their facial features, height and weight. These experiences can stick with a person, and can lead to a woman moving through adulthood carrying a lot of anxiety about the way they look. In addition, women are often more cognizant of looking “professional” in the workplace, requirements that are more often targeted at women and women’s clothes. Our bodies represent our personhood, and when women are made to feel badly, inferior or self-conscious about their appearances, it can lead to long-lasting anxiety.
Pressure around pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood
Approximately 10% of postpartum women develop anxiety once they become a new mom, and this only includes women who have been diagnosed. This sobering figure speaks to the sheer volume of women who experience anxiety after their baby is born, yet it is not very widely discussed in our society’s discourse on the relationship between pregnancy, motherhood and mental health.
Despite there being no official rule book on how to be the best parent, “mom-shaming” is a pervasive issue in the parenting community. Each parent has their own idea of how to do right by their child, but this can cause anxiety when women are meant to feel badly or guilty because of their chosen techniques. An example of this is moms who choose to breastfeed and moms who choose to formula-feed. Despite both options being healthy for the baby, some advocates on both sides will shame mothers for using the other method. No woman wants to feel like they are putting their child in harm’s way, which is why sharing parenting decisions with others can be a significant source of anxiety.
This pressure also extends to women who may not want to get pregnant or have children at all. Some women feel pressured by friends, partners, family and even society as a whole to get pregnant and become the family’s primary caregiver at a certain age. This is not feasible nor desirable for every woman, and having to defend oneself in this regard can lead to anxiety.
Pressure to prove themselves at school and at work
The glass ceiling is no secret by now, and neither is the gender pay gap. Many women continue to grapple with feelings of not being taken seriously in professional settings, and reports by women of condescension, harassment and feeling unheard are common. School or work environments that are inhospitable to women can quickly become sources of anxiety because women feel like they have to work orders of magnitude harder just to stay afloat.
Female anxiety signs and symptoms
Anxiety symptoms are much more than feeling nervous before a big test or presentation. Women can experience a broad range of physical, mental and emotional signs and symptoms of anxiety, including:
- Excessive fear and worry
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Feeling on-edge
- Dry mouth
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Muscle tension, aches or soreness
- Having a feeling of impending doom
- Feeling agitated
- Panic attacks
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Sensation of choking
- Avoiding situations that may potentially trigger anxiety, such as social situations
What can I do about my anxiety?
The Light Program provides compassionate mental health treatment for women experiencing anxiety. Get help today by giving us a call at 610-644-6464.