Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting approximately 18.1% of the population every single year. And while they are highly treatable, less than 37% of these people actually seek treatment.
Part of this has to do with the stigma attached to mental illness. Occasional anxiety before an important event such as a job interview or blind date is a perfectly normal stress-induced reaction. What separates this from an anxiety disorder is the latter is permanent and can get worse over time. Some people normalize or play down the amount they actually fret and the extent to which their anxiety interferes with everyday life.
A paper published by the journal Brain and Behavior found that women are almost twice as likely as men to experience anxiety. There is no one reason for this discrepancy— Researchers believe the statistic is a culmination of biological and social factors. Differences in brain chemistry, hormonal fluctuations, and coping strategies play a role, as well as reproductive stages throughout women’s lives (a surge in progesterone and oestrogen during pregnancy can result in OCD— isn’t being a woman grand?)
Women are also prone to overthinking stressful situations whereas men are more likely to take some sort of action. A lot can be said about the social and historical reasons for this, but that is a separate post or hundred altogether.
In any case, considering the enormous disparity in both frequency and cause between the genders when it comes to anxiety disorders, it only makes sense the manifestations and coping mechanisms are also varied. The following are signs of anxiety that are especially common among women:
1. You are constantly worried and on edge
An anxiety disorder is persistent. You find yourself worrying about something constantly. Sometimes, you don’t even know what it is that’s causing you so much tension, you just feel caught in an endless loop of ceaseless unease.
These feelings are so overwhelming that they often interfere with work, school, or familial and social obligations. Co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorder Institute Sally Winston says “The distinction between an anxiety disorder and just having normal anxiety is whether your emotions are causing a lot of suffering and dysfunction.”
2. You believe bad things will happen unless you do things a certain way
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a type of anxiety disorder, so it is no wonder OCD thoughts and behaviors are frequently used as coping mechanisms for stressful situations. If you find yourself engaging in very specific rituals in order to avoid bad things happening (even if you know this is illogical) and focusing on obsessive thoughts you feel powerless over, it is time to seek proper treatment in order to take back control.
Another manifestation of OCD behavior is rigid perfectionism. “If you are constantly judging yourself or you have a lot of anticipatory anxiety about making mistakes or falling short of your standards, then you probably have an anxiety disorder,” says Winston.
3. You have trouble sleeping
You are constantly tired and irritable, and winding down your mind at the end of the day is a struggle. When you do manage to fall asleep, you rarely make it through the entire night, resulting in a general fatigue which impacts your focus and overall well-being.