• Masarat Jilani

Why are women more prone to anxiety?

Anxiety is a mental health condition that is far more than simply being worried. Sub-categories of anxiety can include generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and panic attacks. All these anxiety conditions can affect all aspects of life.

Statistics show that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety compared to men. Some studies have shown that women have a higher diagnosis rate for all anxiety disorders, except social anxiety which is equal in both men and women. Women who have one anxiety disorder are more likely to have another anxiety disorder, eating disorder, or depression compared to men who have an anxiety disorder. The findings also showed that women tend to deal with their anxiety by avoidance, while men more often turn to substance abuse.

Statistics also show that men are less likely to seek help for mental health problems. But other factors likely play a role i.e. biological differences and environmental factors relating to upbringing and society.

Although anxiety is a psychological phenomenon it also has a lot of physical symptoms associated with it, driven by adrenaline. Such symptoms include heart racing, headaches, and tummy upset. Anxiety is also a well-known trigger for irritable bowel syndrome.

Why does anxiety affect more women than men?

It is important to understand what underpins these differences between genders so that we can manage anxiety better in everyone. There are likely to be many factors that contribute to anxiety in women, which could be a combination of hormonal, societal, and genetic factors.

Approach to worry

Researchers have been investigating why these gender differences occur and have found key differences between how boys and girls approach worrying. One of the main reasons girls may be more prone to anxiety than boys is that they worry/ ruminate about worrying! This is called meta worry and a study comparing teenage boys to teenage girls showed that anxious thoughts affected girls more than boys. Included in these anxious thoughts, were thoughts which were worrying about worrying! And it was this “meta worry” which may explain why girls were more affected by their anxious thoughts. Girls tended to believe that worry is more uncontrollable and that worry must be avoided.

Counterintuitively, girls also had positive beliefs about worry, particularly that worrying about something was beneficial and a good way to cope with a situation. These positive beliefs about worry led them to worry more! And when they worried more this triggered more worry about how uncontrollable their worry was! As you can see, this can turn into quite a vicious cycle- where you worry as a coping mechanism but then also worry about how much you are worrying.

It’s this complex vicious cycle of beliefs and meta worry which may contribute to women suffering from anxiety more frequently than men.

Seeing worry as an uncontrollable force in your life can be problematic. These “worries about worry” can be positive and negative thoughts related to worrying. Some negative examples of meta worry include: “This anxiety will ruin my life” or “ This worrying is uncontrollable”. Some positive examples may be “worrying keeps me safe” or “worrying helps me cope”. But all these thoughts ultimately mean that anxiety increases.

Coping Strategies in Women

Worry is an important part of life and a life without worry is not possible, nor is it healthy. Worrying about things can help us achieve goals and to stay safe. However, sometimes our beliefs and approaches to worry can be counterproductive and this thinking process which is more common in females can contribute to the development of anxiety disorders.

The way we think is so innate and subconscious it can sometimes be hard to even realize what we are doing. And changing our thinking patterns can be tricky. However, there is a science-backed way of doing this. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) offers a range of strategies to help us change self-sabotaging thought processes. It offers a structured, relaxing way to slowly rewire our thinking. The Zemedy program is a specially designed CBT program that helps tackle IBS. IBS is a gut disorder that also affects women more than men and CBT has been proven to be an effective way of tackling it.

The Zemedy app helps with worry management and has a range of exercises you can practice to ensure that you can manage your worry rather than your worry managing you!

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