Anxiety is something both men and women experience. But according to several sources, like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and more, women are significantly more likely to experience anxiety than men; nearly 50 percent more likely from the time puberty starts until the age of 50, to be exact.
So why exactly are women more susceptible to anxiety than men? How does it affect them differently, if at all? And does any of this mean they can or should learn to fight it differently?
Why exactly are women more susceptible to anxiety than men?
The term “anxiety” covers several diagnosable psychiatric disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, and several more.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge discovered that not only are women more likely to experience anxiety than men but specifically, people living in North America and Europe were most likely to be affected by a disorder. From a scientific perspective, the most commonly explored reason behind men and women experiencing anxiety at different rates is considered to be brain chemistry and hormone fluctuations. And while biological differences are accounted for in understanding anxiety between genders, the finding that anxiety was also more prevalent in Western cultures was important in pointing out that many causes for anxiety can simply be social psychological. That means there’s no definitive biological factor that determines why women are more susceptible to anxiety than men.
How does it affect men and women differently?
Andrea Peterson, author of On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety, wrote at length about her own battle with anxiety. In it, she explored everything from family histories of mental illness, personality traits, and past traumas to understand how anxiety finds us. But what she found in her research beyond the why was just as interesting: “Women’s illnesses generally last longer, have more severe symptoms, and are more disabling,” she wrote. “Anxious women are also more likely to develop an additional anxiety disorder, an eating disorder, or depression. In general, women ruminate more than men.”
So as Peterson learned, the dangers of anxiety for women don’t just lie in the frequency amongst them as much as the potential severity of untreated anxiety.
Do women and men cope with anxiety differently?
One argument against the idea that women are more likely to struggle with an anxiety disorder is the suggestion that men are simply less likely to report symptoms. Many studies suggest that’s not the case. Peterson’s book mentions research in which boys are actually more anxious in infancy than girls, and at some point, that trend flips genders. While this would lead you to believe it must be all up to how we socialize boys and girls differently, UCLA Professor of Psychology Michael Craske hypothesized in his research that this is actually a biological training method to combat anxiety. Craske found that infant boys are legitimately more fussy and irritable, which actually protects them from the possibility of stress turning to anxiety later on in life.