When it comes to gender and anxiety, research has found that women are twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder as men. This difference appears to be associated with a variety of biological, psychological and cultural factors.
For women, the average length of time between the onset of symptoms (the time she starts feeling bad) and when she gets actual diagnosis of an anxiety disorder are generally between nine and 12 years. Studies have found that for those who are diagnosed, only a small percentage get appropriate treatment.
Many women with anxiety put off seeking help, even if their anxiety is intense. This is particularly true for a woman who has had anxiety since she was a child. For her, anxiety may seem like a part of normal day-to-day life. For women in this situation, they tend to finally seek help when their anxiety begins to threaten their relationships or career.
It is likely that the fluctuation of reproductive hormones and menstrual cycles are linked to woman’s risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Women tend to become more anxious when estrogen and progesterone levels fall. This is a common occurrence for women who experience premenstrual syndrome, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, post-partum depression, and menopause.
From the time a girl achieves puberty until she reaches 50, she is twice as likely to experience an anxiety disorder as her male counterpart. Additionally, anxiety disorders occur earlier in women. Women are also more apt to other psychiatric disorders during their lifetime and the most common to co-occur with anxiety is depression.
Differences in brain chemistry of men and women may help to explain why they experience anxiety differently. For one thing, women experience the fight-or-flight response more quickly than men due to neurological differences associated with estrogen and progesterone. Also, a woman’s brain may not process the neurotransmitter serotonin as rapidly, which could result in increased anxiety. Other research has found that women have a different response to low levels of the stress hormone corticotropin-releasing factor, which can also contribute to anxiety.
For the most part, women suffering from anxiety disorders receive the same types of anxiety treatment as men. The main treatment approaches are psychotherapy and medication. However, there are some special treatment considerations for women with anxiety disorders. Aspects that should be considered include the woman’s relationship and family issues, career challenges, her reproductive cycle, and other female biological differences. Women appear to be more likely to have side effects from medications, which can lead to additional anxiety. Additionally, women are more likely than men to require simultaneous treatment for other conditions such as depression and eating disorders.
With men, anxiety disorders in men often go undiagnosed because the symptoms mimic a heart attack. The symptoms of a panic attack look a lot like a heart attack and because men are more likely to experience a cardiac event, many men think they are having a heart attack when it is actually a panic attack. This is possibly the most prevalent of the many reasons for the apparent inequality in diagnosis of a panic attack or other anxiety disorder in men compared to women.
Men also resort to self-treatment of the problem with alcohol in order to cope with anxiety, often because they are apprehensive about seeing a doctor or going therapy. Clinical studies of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic male and female agoraphobics suggest that twice as many of the men as the women are alcoholics.
Although women suffer from anxiety disorders in significantly higher numbers than men, this may be because they seek help more readily. Many men experience denial when confronting the idea that they may have an anxiety disorder. Women may be more able to overcome this denial, which may explain why they seek treatment in such higher numbers.