Everyone feels stress at times dealing with life events, but anxiety disorders are different. They can be debilitating and interfere with a person’s way of life. When worry gets out of control or becomes a daily struggle, it is diagnosed as an anxiety disorder and presents itself similar to a medical condition. As a result, many people find themselves in the emergency room. As scary as an emergency room visit can be, it is always good to rule out medical conditions, medications, or substances first before diagnosing any anxiety disorders.Although women and men can both suffer from anxiety, women suffer from anxiety disorders at approximately twice the rate as men. The reasons for the higher rates of diagnosis can be due to social and cultural acceptance, hormonal fluctuations, women being more likely to seek help, sexual abuse and violence, and women more likely to be diagnosed with a comorbid condition.
Common Anxiety Symptoms in Women
There are several kinds of anxiety disorders, including:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Excessive worry about life events, finances, job, family, relationships, or anything else are the classic descriptors of GAD, which affects about 18% of the population – about half of those being women. Hormonal changes such as menstrual cycles or menopause can be factors contributing to GAD.
Symptoms of GAD can be fatigue, sweating, abnormal heartbeat, restlessness, hypervigilance, irritability, racing or unwanted thoughts, insomnia, nausea, poor concentration, trembling, shortness of breath, poor sleeping, and/or other physiological symptoms.
Panic attacks, which are the disproportionate fear response to a situation, can manifest into panic disorder, which is primarily associated with sudden attacks of fear, and the worry of having more panic attacks. The fear of having another attack can make a woman avoid certain situations or places.Studies show that panic attacks are common among postmenopausal women and women who suffer from other disorders, such as depression.
Symptoms can mimic that of Generalized Anxiety Disorder along with a sense of impending doom or intense fear about dying.
Specific fears, to the point of being irrational, about objects, people, or places are classified as a phobia. Examples of phobias include fear of spiders or snakes, fear of heights, or fear of elevators, to name a few. More than likely, these objects, people, or places, pose no real harm and most people understand that but they are still paralyzed with fear when facing these things.
Social Anxiety Disorder
People who are excessively fearful of being in social situations in which they perceive they may be scrutinized or observed suffer from social anxiety disorder. Reasons that women suffer from higher levels of social anxiety than men vary, but include women being raised to take on more passive roles, or trauma, for examples.
Selective mutism primarily affects children, but can extend into adulthood and affect those that are capable of speaking but do not speak in social situations. It is usually coupled with shyness and social anxiety. Children who are thought to have selective mutism should be evaluated by a professional to rule out any other disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Women who are afraid to leave the house or afraid of public places due to the fear of being trapped or the fear of being unable to escape suffer from agoraphobia. Previously, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV-TR (DSM), agoraphobia was linked with panic disorder, but in the recent DSM-5, agoraphobia is a stand alone diagnosis.
Treatment for Anxiety Symptoms in Women
Treatment for anxiety may be a multi-modal approach consisting of individual psychotherapy and medication.
Usually in psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to treat anxiety disorders successfully, but other modalities may be used as well.
Medication can be a helpful and effective addition to treating anxiety disorders along with psychotherapy. Many different classes of medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI’s), benzodiazepines, and beta-blockers are used to treat anxiety symptoms in women, plus any other additional medications to treat medical conditions such as menopause symptoms that may exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
For proper diagnosis, always consult a licensed mental health clinician and your physician to rule out medical conditions and find the best treatment plan and options for you.
“Thinking,” courtesy of Andrew Phillips, unsplash.com, PublicDomain License; “Kate,” courtesy of Remy Loz, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Trapped,” courtesy of Paul Gilmore, unsplash.com, Public Domain License