Anxiety is a mental health condition that impacts people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. While each person is a unique individual, research suggests that anxiety may impact men and women differently–at least in a broad sense. In this post, we’ll explore the different ways that anxiety manifests in men and women, as well as the unique challenges that both face when dealing with this mental health issue.
What is anxiety?
In order to understand how anxiety impacts men and women differently, it’s important to have a solid sense of what anxiety actually is. Some anxiety is a natural response to stressful life situations, like having a big presentation at work or dealing with a health issue. However, when anxiety feels like a constant presence in your life, this could be a sign that something deeper is going on.
There are different types of anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), nearly 6% of Americans will experience GAD at some point during their life. Common symptoms include chronic worry, feeling on edge, and physical symptoms like sleep problems and muscle tension.
Panic disorder is another common type of anxiety. People with this condition experience panic attacks, or episodes of anxiety that seemingly come out of nowhere. During these episodes, they typically experience intense fear and a feeling that something bad is going to happen. Racing heart, lightheadedness, and sweating are also common.
People with anxiety may also experience social anxiety disorder. As the name suggests, people with this disorder feel worried about social situations. They may fear being judged or watched, even going so far as to avoid certain social situations altogether.
7 ways that anxiety affects men and women differently
Again, each person is a unique individual. Your sex and gender are not guarantees that you will be impacted by anxiety in any particular way. However, it appears that anxiety does affect men and women differently at a population level. Here’s how.
1. Women are more likely to develop anxiety disorders
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), women are twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder. While experts aren’t exactly sure why, different levels of hormones and other brain chemicals may play a role. Cultural implications may also be partly responsible.
2. Men may be less likely to seek help for anxiety
Though many men experience anxiety, they may be less likely to ask for help. Societal expectations of masculinity can make it difficult to reach out, especially for emotional and mental health issues. Our culture often teaches men to be stoic or suppress their emotions, which can prevent them from getting the support they need to feel better.
3. Women may be more likely to worry about their worry
While each person with anxiety may worry about different things, studies show that women are more likely to have metacognitive worry. In other words, women may be more apt to worry about the fact that they are worrying. Men may tend to worry about external events and the physical symptoms they experience rather than the worry itself.
4. Men may be more likely to turn to substance use as a coping mechanism
People cope with anxiety in a variety of different ways. For some people, this involves using drugs and alcohol to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that men are more likely than women to use illicit drugs. This can lead to addiction and other negative consequences.
5. Women may be more likely to experience anxiety related to relationships and family
While each person with anxiety feels anxious about different things, women may be more likely to feel worried about their relationships, family, and caregiving responsibilities. This could be related to the social expectations that women face in maintaining relationships and taking on the role of caregiver for loved ones.
6. Men may be more likely to experience anxiety related to work and financial stress
Similarly, men may have a tendency to worry about topics related to work, finances, and the pressure to perform. Our society often makes men feel like they need to be a provider and places a lot of value on career success. Therefore, men who have anxiety may feel especially worried about their job and identity in this area of their life.
7 Women may be more likely to experience certain anxiety disorders
As we’ve discussed, rates of anxiety are higher in women overall. Experts also see a similar pattern when they break out gender differences among the different types of anxiety disorders. In fact, studies show that women are more likely than men to experience any kind of anxiety–except for social anxiety disorder. Apparently, men and women are equally likely to develop this particular form of anxiety.
Why You Shouldn’t Wait to Get Anxiety Treated
- Impact on quality of life: Anxiety can significantly impact your daily life and overall well-being. It can interfere with your relationships, work or school performance, and personal fulfillment. By seeking treatment early, you can start managing your anxiety symptoms effectively and regain control over your life.
- Preventing worsening symptoms: If left untreated, anxiety disorders can worsen over time. The symptoms may become more severe and debilitating, making it even harder to function normally. Taking action early can help prevent the escalation of symptoms and minimize their impact on your daily functioning.
- Physical health consequences: Anxiety is not only a psychological condition; it can also have adverse effects on your physical health. Prolonged anxiety can lead to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, and compromised immune system functioning. Timely treatment can help reduce the risk of developing these health complications.
- Avoidance of self-medication and substance abuse: When experiencing anxiety, some individuals may turn to self-medication or substance abuse as a way to cope. This can lead to a dangerous cycle of dependency and addiction, exacerbating both the anxiety and substance abuse issues. Seeking professional treatment early on can help you develop healthier coping strategies and reduce the risk of self-destructive behaviors.
- Impact on relationships: Anxiety can strain relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners. It may lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and a general sense of disconnection. By addressing anxiety through therapy or other appropriate interventions, you can improve communication, strengthen relationships, and prevent further strain on your support network.
- Access to resources and support: Seeking treatment early allows you to access a wide range of resources and support systems. Mental health professionals can provide you with evidence-based treatments tailored to your specific needs. Additionally, support groups, educational materials, and online resources can offer valuable guidance and reassurance as you navigate your journey towards better mental health.
Getting help for anxiety
While men and women may experience anxiety differently, both deserve high-quality mental health care. If you speak with a specialist, they can help you learn how to cope with your feelings and empower you to confront your emotions head-on. If you or a loved one is struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for the support you need.