By: Laurie Edwards for Uterus1
For some people, a dislike of flying or crowded places can mean nothing more than a small discomfort, the body’s natural “fight or flight” response to stimuli. For others, though, such fears can be paralyzing, leading to complete aversion to activities or even leaving the house. Equally gripping are the obsessive thoughts and re-playing of traumatic events that can isolate people, and in each of these cases, anxiety is the culprit.
|At a Glance|
|Signs of an Anxiety Attack:|
Shortness of breath
Tingling in the hands and feet
For more information on anxiety/panic disorders, symptoms and treatment, visit Anxiety Disorders Association of America
Of all the mental health disorders in the United States, anxiety disorders collectively represent the largest group, affecting more than 19 million people each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s an all-encompassing problem that affects people’s livelihoods, relationships and wallets.
For women, the issue of anxiety and panic disorders is especially significant: They experience such disorders in much higher numbers than men.
It isn’t enough to simply accept these facts without seeking to understand why this is the case. Is it a biological difference between the sexes? Does the way women are raised in today’s society predispose them to more anxious tendencies? Or is it that by virtue of their gender, women are at risk for more traumatic events than men, leading to increased anxiety? The answer, it seems, is a combination of all of these factors.
“A greater risk for anxiety exists in females and this is especially apparent in the transition from childhood to early adulthood,” said Kamila S. White, Ph.D., director of the behavioral medicine program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University.
Many disorders are figured prominently in the news and other media outlets, including specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder and what is known as generalized anxiety disorder.
In many instances, a sort of one-two punch for women exists: If women are more prone to stressful or traumatizing events, this could lead to increased anxiety. Coupled with the fact that women are more attuned to such types of events, the risk for more anxiety grows even more.
“Some data suggests that females experience more traumatic events than males,” White said. “There is also some research showing that women tend to be more attentive to threatening stimuli.”
Reinforced gender roles and societal expectations also play their part in this phenomenon. While girls are encouraged to be empathetic, perhaps making them more susceptible to anxiety, boys are often encouraged to be more assertive and independent.
Often, people with anxiety disorders have other psychological problems, including depression, substance abuse and eating disorders. Since women experience some of these other problems in greater numbers than men, this also helps explain the link between women and anxiety disorders.
Similarly, panic disorders are more common in women than men; of the three million Americans suffering from panic disorders, two-thirds of them are female. Panic attacks include physical symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain and tingling in the hands and feet. “Panic disorder frequently mimics physical ailments. In fact, it is considered one of medicine’s greatest imposters,” said authors Lorna Weinstock and Eleanor Gilman, who wrote “Overcoming Panic Disorder: A Woman’s Guide.”
Since they often present as symptoms of serious medical conditions like heart disease, a lot of time is spent running tests and diagnostic procedures before panic attacks are identified, making it an economic as well as psychosocial issue.
Since panic attacks can cause extreme anxiety, it is not unusual for people to experience both disorders concurrently. For both disorders, the best treatment is medication combines with very specific psychotherapy tailored to the patient’s particular phobias, stresses and behaviors.