Do Only Women Suffer from Anxiety Disorders?
Many people experience anxiety disorders in different ways. This is one women’s experience with dealing with anxiety in her life.
“Just don’t worry about it,” my husband said.
“Geez. You need to relax and calm down,” a friend said.
“You need to learn to let it go,” my mom said.
My answer to all of these: “if I knew how to do that, don’t you think that’s the choice I would make?”
I’m someone* who has been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and panic disorder. While my anxiety has peaks and valleys, it’s always there. The thing is, when I reveal this to other women, they often react in one of two ways:
- “OMG – I have anxiety too. Are you taking medications for it? What do you take? Is it working for you?”
- Stunned silence. Topic change.
I’ve only had one man share that he suffered from anxiety too. Most become visibly uncomfortable that I’ve shared this information. Like I’ve told them a deep, dark secret.
Which led me to wonder – do only women suffer from anxiety disorders?
The answer to the question is no, but women ARE more likely.
The truth about anxiety for women
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA), nearly 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorders, making it the most common mental illness in the United States. Further, women are more than twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime compared to men.
“Women often feel pressure to ‘hold it all together’ and not admit when they are struggling,” says Dr. Betty Jo “BJ” Fancher, a family medicine and psychiatric physician assistant with a doctorate of medical science and a masters in psychopharmacology. “Yet, if you are sobbing on the floor of your shower, throwing things in anger or repeatedly screaming into a pillow, these are signals that you have crossed a line and should see a healthcare provider about your mental health.”
What are some symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety can present in many different ways, and not all people will experience the same anxiety symptoms. An article on WebMD’s website suggests that some anxiety symptoms can include:
- “Panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Feelings of panic, doom, or danger
- Sleep problems
- Not being able to stay calm and still”
However, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health, “women with anxiety disorders experience a combination of anxious thoughts or beliefs, physical symptoms, and changes in behavior, including avoiding everyday activities they used to do. Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms. They all involve a fear and dread about things that may happen now or in the future.”
Further, anxiety is not “all in your mind.” There can – and will likely be – some physical symptoms that occur with anxiety, including:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Hot flashes
The experience of anxiety for women
Anxiety among women is not uncommon. According to the GeneSight® Mental Health Monitor in April 2022, two out of three women diagnosed with depression or anxiety say they have reached or are near their breaking point regarding their mental health.
This breaking point can be defined as a negative impact or a significant strain on anything from social life to caring for loved ones at home to professional obligations. Four out of 10 women without a diagnosis of depression or anxiety say they have reached or are reaching this point.
When feeling overwhelmed:
- Nearly three in four (72%) of women say they “just need to take a break”
- 31% believed that “I need to try harder”
- Only 13% said they thought “I should see a doctor”
How do you know if you should go to the doctor? First and foremost, it is by paying attention to your body and understanding that anxiety cannot be attributable to just one thing.
“Anxiety and worry are not the same thing,” says Debbie Thomas, EdD, APRN, based in Louisville, Ky in an article published by GeneSight in the Louisville Courier Journal. “Worry is situational. Anxiety is persistent and excessive – and it doesn’t go away when the specific cause of stress or distress is gone.”
When to seek help
Many people wait to seek help for their anxiety. In fact, according to a story in the Washington Post, “anxiety disorders are often unrecognized and under detected in primary care: One study cited by the task force found the median time for initiating treatment for anxiety is a staggering 23 years.”
Delaying mental health treatment is common among women, according to the GeneSight Mental Health Monitor. More than half (51%) of women diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression waited at least one year before seeking treatment – or never sought treatment at all.
“Women are waiting more than a year – longer than they should – to get the mental health treatment they need,” noted Rachael Earls, PhD, a medical science liaison manager with Myriad Genetics, makers of the GeneSight test. “It is critical to receive treatment for mental health because we know that mental health conditions are highly comorbid with other physical diseases, such as cancer, stroke, heart disease. Why live with a mental health condition that can impact every aspect of your life until you reach a breaking point?”
According to the survey, the top reasons women diagnosed with depression or anxiety delayed treatment are:
- “I thought it was ‘just a phase’ or that I could get over it on my own” (60%)
- “I didn’t want anyone to know I was struggling” (50%)
- “I didn’t want to take medication” (31%)
- “I couldn’t afford treatment” (26%)
- “I didn’t have health insurance” (19%)
- “I didn’t have time to seek treatment” (18%)
So, when do you know when to seek treatment? For many, it’s when they realize they can’t “just get over it” on their own.
“To differentiate between healthy and unhealthy anxiety, ask yourself: Is this manageable? If your anxiety keeps you from sleeping, working, social interactions, or errands, you may want to reach out to a therapist,” writes Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist located in Santa Monica, Calif, in Psychology Today. “If you feel anxious for more than half the week for six months or longer, it’s probably time to seek help.”
Consider what works best for you
There is no “one size fits all” solution to treat or manage anxiety. And while data from the GeneSight Mental Health Monitor found that women most frequently indicated prescription medications helping the most in relieving depression/anxiety symptoms, they also indicated that certain other people and actions helped relieve symptoms as well. On our blog alone, we have shared additional information about food for anxiety, grounding and breathing techniques and meditation.
However, the Mayo Clinic notes that:
“Treatment decisions are based on how significantly generalized anxiety disorder is affecting your ability to function in your daily life. The two main treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are psychotherapy and medications. You may benefit most from a combination of the two. It may take some trial and error to discover which treatments work best for you.”
If your clinician determines that medication is an appropriate treatment, but you are having trouble finding a medication that alleviates your symptoms without causing intolerable side effects, the GeneSight test may be able to provide information to your clinician that could help.
The GeneSight® test must be ordered by a clinician who prescribes medication. The test analyzes how your genes may affect your outcomes with medications commonly prescribed to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental health conditions. The GeneSight Psychotropic test provides your clinician with information about which medications may require dose adjustments, may be less likely to work for you, or may have an increased risk of side effects based on your genetic makeup.
It can be difficult to talk to someone about anxiety. However, if you need help, talking to your doctor about how you are feeling may be a good place to start.
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*This is one woman’s specific experience with anxiety, and we are grateful she has shared it with us and with you.
Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.
If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.