Do Anxiety Symptoms Differ in Women vs Men?

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man and woman with anxiety

As with any disease or disorder, no two patients are the same with regard to symptoms and prognosis. Such is the case with anxiety disorders, which vary not only in severity, but also in the way they present themselves from person to person. People also wonder if anxiety symptoms are the same in both men and women. The short answer is, “Kind of.” However, the long answer is inherently more complex and involves symptoms that are similar, but may present themselves differently depending on the nature of the person’s anxiety disorder — as well as the social stigmas and gender norms that inevitably come into play.

How Does a Person’s Gender Impact Their Anxiety Disorder?

Beginning at puberty, girls are twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder than their male counterparts, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Additionally, women are more likely to develop comorbidities, like depression, alongside their anxiety. The biological reason behind this frustrating truth is that the fight-or-flight response is both activated quicker and remains activated longer within women than it does within men.

To further complicate matters for women, research suggests that serotonin also plays a part in why women develop anxiety more often than men. It is thought that this critical neurotransmitter isn’t processed by the female brain as quickly as it is by the male brain. The ADAA explains that, “Women are more sensitive to low levels of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), a hormone that organizes stress responses in mammals, making them twice as vulnerable as men to stress-related disorders.”

Coping Mechanism for Men and Women

Although women are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, both men and women are prone to symptoms that can make anxiety feel anywhere from uncomfortable to downright overwhelming and insufferable. The common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include the following:

  • Nervous, irritable, or on edge
  • Sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), sweating, and/or trembling
  • Weak or tired
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) problems

While generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is just one of the many anxiety disorders that someone can develop, it encompasses the most common list of symptoms experienced by people living with anxiety. Other anxiety disorders include panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and a plethora of specific phobias.

The prevalence of anxiety disorders in women to men is 23.4% to 14.3% respectively, and women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men are. While these statistics are backed by biological findings, there are also the societal norms that come into play. For example, men are more likely to be perceived as weak and/or feminine if they’re open about their struggles with anxiety, and these outdated gender norms prevent some men from seeking help.

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In addition to the prevalence discrepancies, there are differences in the way men and women typically cope with their disorders. While women typically deal with their anxiety symptoms by ‘agoraphobic avoidance’ — AKA staying inside and avoiding others — men more frequently cope via substance abuse. Neither of these coping methods are healthy, and that’s precisely why, regardless of gender, counseling is often needed in order to manage symptoms.

Professional Help

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, you’re not alone. Whether you need both counseling and medication or can manage your symptoms with counseling alone, the time to take action is now. Things can and will get better.

Working with a counselor will give you coping mechanisms that are healthy and sustainable, which will in turn allow you to lead a fuller life. Not to mention, working with a therapist provides you with a safe space to “get it all out” without being judged or perceived as weak, crazy, overemotional, or any other negative term incorrectly assigned to people living with anxiety. And last but surely not least, a great counselor will help you get to the root of your emotions. Sometimes these insights can lessen your symptoms and make them easier to manage; and even if that’s not the case, it often brings peace to know why our mind works the way it does.

Thanks to the Internet, you can now receive counseling from the comfort and ease of your home. It’s important to choose a counselor with whom you connect. After all, having a great rapport with your counselor will make your sessions that much more effective. And above all else, remember this: regardless of your gender or the ways in which your symptoms manifest themselves, you are not broken. Your anxiety disorder symptoms can absolutely be well-managed and you can find ways to reduce your anxiety.

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Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and entrepreneur. Her work is primarily focused on mental illness, relationships, and pop culture. You can find her writing in Washington Post, Greatist, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and more.
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