On average, anxiety disorders affect women at twice the rate as men. While the exact reasons aren’t established, experts have various theories as to why this disparity exists.
One explanation centers on how certain hormones influence one’s mental state, while another theory is based on a woman’s lower serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter involved in emotion regulation and mood. Other theories point to differences in the way stress affects men versus women mentally. Keep reading to learn more about anxiety disorder and the most common anxiety triggers for women.
What is anxiety disorder?
When encountering a stress-inducing trigger, the brain immediately starts producing the stress response hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. These natural chemicals produce many of the symptoms we associate with anxiety.
When symptoms of anxiety become so intense that they cause impaired functioning and even isolation, it is categorized as an anxiety disorder. The general symptoms of anxiety are provoked mostly by irrational fear and worry and include:
- Sense of dread or impending doom
- Shallow breathing or shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
- Racing heart
- Fatigue or weakness
- Sweating or hot flashes
- Sleep disruption
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired short-term memory
There are several types of anxiety within the anxiety disorder spectrum. These include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Social anxiety
- Specific phobia
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Women tend to have higher rates of GAD, specific phobia, panic disorder and PTSD than men.
What are the most common anxiety triggers for women?
- Loss of control: The feeling of losing control over some aspect of their lives can be anxiety-inducing for anyone. Some examples of this include being in an abusive relationship, experiencing a serious health issue, having financial problems or having a close loved battling a substance use disorder.
- Feeling overwhelmed: Experiencing chronic stress, such those caused by a demanding job, parenting duties or a difficult marriage, can cause them to feel overwhelmed.
- Hormone-related triggers: The fluctuation of certain hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, occurs at all stages of a woman’s life. These fluctuations can trigger anxiety symptoms during puberty, with PMS, pre and post-natal stages and menopause.
- PTSD triggers: Some women who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event may have residual symptoms that linger for months or longer, known as PTSD. When they are exposed to a situation, person or place that reminds them of a traumatic event, they may experience anxiety symptoms.
- Dysfunctional relationships: A toxic relationship, whether it is a parent, a spouse, a colleague or friend, can cause considerable anxiety. An unhealthy relationship may involve being taken advantage of, having boundaries disrespected, being deceived or bullied, all of which are stress inducing.
How to manage anxiety
The key to managing the stress response is learning how to regulate your emotional reaction to stressful stimuli. While anxiety disorder is primarily treated with psychotherapy and medications such as benzodiazepines, consider these coping techniques to help manage anxiety:
- Practice yoga
- Use guided meditation tracks
- Get daily exercise
- Practice mindfulness
- Enjoy therapeutic massage
- Try deep breathing techniques
- Improve sleep quality
- Keep a journal
- Engage in a hobby, such as making jewelry, photography or painting
- Volunteer at a local charity
If anxiety is disrupting your life or the life of someone you know, help is available. Reach out to a mental health practitioner today and begin the journey to wellness.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.