Anxiety is one of the most commonly studied disorders. Anxiety, as a feeling, is experienced by millions of people every day and for different reasons such as stress at work or fears for the family members. Normally, this is a temporary feeling and it goes away over time. Typically, anxiety is a strong nervous feeling, fear, or worry. Anxiety disorder occurs when such feelings keep coming back which disrupts the normal lifestyle of the affected individuals. Anxiety disorders affect tens of thousands of people, many of whom suffer from the disorders chronically and for many years. People of all ages and both sexes are exposed to the disorders of this kind.
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At the same time, the professionals notice that women experience anxiety disorders more often than men (Shear, Cloitre, Pine & Ross, 2005). This paper explores the factors that contribute to this tendency and cause the uneven exposure of men and women to anxiety disorders. The causes of higher rates of anxiety disorders in women and in men are multiple and include social pressure, expectations, household and work duties, yet one of the most significant causes is emotional inclination towards strong fears and stresses detected in women.
Anxiety Disorders in Women and Quality of Life
Even though many people suffer from anxiety disorders, the majority of them prefer to hide their problem from the others because they feel self-conscious about this disorder; they fear the outcomes that may appear if someone finds out that they are affected by this problem (Franklin & Schneier, 2006). Affected individuals start looking for treatment for anxiety disorders after years of suffering. It takes a long time for them to realize that the problem needs to be addressed, and for that they have to report it. Anxiety disorders tend to negatively affect the quality of life of the individuals, cause social isolation, delays at work, troubles and conflicts within a family, they also lead to the development of harmful habits such as alcohol and substance abuse (Olatunji, Cisler & Tolin, 2006).
This is why most individuals become forced to search for a way to put their lives back together. Statistically, women are more likely to start looking for anxiety treatment than men (Shear, Cloitre, Pine & Ross, 2005). This occurs not only because anxiety disorders are more common among women, but also because women are more open to asking for help when they cannot solve a problem on their own.
Why Are Women More Exposed to Anxiety Disorders?
The contemporary life is based on high-speeds, a lot of pressure and stress. As a result, a large number of individuals end up developing various emotional disorders. Anxiety disorder is one of the most prevalent emotional issues of the contemporary Americans. This disorder includes a list of various forms, among which there are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder, social and separation anxieties, selective mutism and some specific phobias including fears of objects (bugs, mice) and situations (speaking in public, falling, being hit by a car) (Anxiety Disorders in Children, n. d.).
Both men and women tend to live under a lot of emotional pressure, yet, females are much frequent anxiety disorder patients than men (Shear, Cloitre, Pine & Ross, 2005). This could be happening because emotionally weaker, or because they are exposed to more stress than men. Some specific factors that influence the occurrence of anxieties in women are the focus of this paper.
Large number of untreated cases of anxiety disorders is explained by the barriers to treatment. As mentioned above, patients are reluctant to report their conditions as the problem is rather personal and is intertwined with the emotional state of the individuals, and people suffering from anxieties prefer to stay isolated from the society, and avoid personal communication. This way, making a step towards receiving the treatment for anxiety is a serious step for them as this action alone requires a certain will power and strength to overcome the anxious feeling. Among the other treatment barriers for women with anxiety disorders there are every day duties and responsibilities.
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For example, women with small children who cannot afford childcare would not have time for the anxiety therapies, which feature cognitive-behavioral therapy as the most effective treatment (Shear, Cloitre, Pine & Ross, 2005; Hofmann & Smits, 2008). Finally, one of the largest treatment barriers for the anxiety affected individuals is its cost, this barrier is applicable for both men and women (Cuijpers & Schuumans, 2007). At the same time, low-cost therapies such as self-help require calm alone time, so the patients who are very busy with work or household duties would not be able to maintain this treatment (Lewis, Pearce and Bisson, 2012).
Due to the major gender-role shift that has been happening in the United States since the beginning of 1950s and 1960s, women obtained a wide range of new opportunities and chances, but they also started to be exposed to a number of new challenges and pressures. Women today are evaluated based on their achievements, since childhood many of them are encouraged to acquire proper education, build careers, earn money and become financially stable.
At the same time, women are expected to fulfill their gender functions as mothers. As a result, many end up torn apart between motherhood and work. Overlapping duties create stress and may cause anxieties and nervousness facilitating obsessive compulsive disorders which may serve as the basis for the development of other issues of impulse control such as hair pulling or obsessive shopping. It seems like adult women are exposed to enough stresses to develop anxiety disorders and phobias. At the same time, the changes of gender roles affected men too. They received a lot of new responsibilities (taking care of children, household duties) and also have rather stressed out lifestyle most of the time.
According to Shear, Cloitre, Pine and Ross (2005), many women with social anxieties and phobias are reluctant to admit these issues because this makes them exposed to an unpleasant social stigma, for example, having a reputation of being nervous or paranoid ruins women’s chances to find successful partnerships or relationships. This creates biased perception of women by the surrounding individuals. Having too many fears carried a message of emotional weakness and could negatively affect a woman’s career, for example result in delay of promotion to leadership positions. This is why women with anxieties do everything possible to disguise them from the society and keep their reputation. At the same time, men with the same disorders are exposed to the same risks, and also tend to hide their issues. This way, a more specific difference between men and women needs to be identified.
The root of the problem of anxiety disorders in women might be hidden in their childhood years. Shear, Cloitre, Pine & Ross (2005) notice that symptoms of anxiety disorders in teenage and adolescent girls can be easily overlooked and ignored as they are often mistaken for the gender-specific behavior expectations. As a result, such symptoms as excessive shyness, worrying or the presence of various phobias are deemed normal for the girls and remain untreated. The same behaviors in teenage and adolescent boys would be considered unexpected and the parents would definitely look into a therapy to correct them.
This seems like a good explanation of the uneven presence of anxiety disorders in men and women, although it has a serious limitation – many women who grow up without any emotional issues develop anxieties in adult life. Besides, many scholars agree that anxiety disorders may be passed within one family and affect several members (Advances in Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorder Research, 2014).
A research by Simpson, Neria, Lewis-Fernández and Schneier (2010) mentions that in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder the higher rates of the problem in women can be explained by the fact that females are more likely to experience higher levels of fear, horror, and helplessness. Basically, being more emotionally exposed to trauma creates worse consequences. As a result, self-isolation occurs as a safety seeking behavior (Clark, 2009). Since anxiety disorder is a problem of emotional kind, the idea that emotional and psychological differences between men and women serve as one of the most serious factors that contribute to the prevalence of anxiety disorders in women.
In conclusion, the rates of anxiety disorder in women are higher than those in men. Working and living conditions, social pressures, childhood factors, emotional and psychological differences of men and women seem to contribute to the exposure of anxiety disorders the most. Among them there are women’s aptness to experience higher levels of horror and fear, and become deeper emotionally traumatized.
Advances in Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorder Research. (2014). AACAP. Web.
Anxiety Disorders in Children. (n. d.). ADAA. Web.
Clark, D. M. (2009). Anxiety disorders: why they persist and how to treat them. Behavior Research and Therapy, 37, 5-27. Web.
Cuijpers, P. & Schuumans, J. (2007) Self-help interventions for anxiety disorders: An overview. Current Psychiatry Reports, 9, 284–290. Web.
Hofmann, S. G., & Smits, J. A. (2008). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adult anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 69(4), 621-632. Web.
Olatunji, B. O., Cisler, J. M., & Tolin, D. F. (2006). Quality of life in the anxiety disorders: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 572–581. Web.
Lewis, C., Pearce, J., & Bisson, J. I. (2012). Efficacy, cost-effectiveness and acceptability of self-help interventions for anxiety disorders: Systematic review. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 200, 15–21. Web.
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Schneier, F. R., M.D. (2006). Social anxiety disorder. The New England Journal of Medicine, 355(10), 1029-1036. Web.
Shear, M. K., Cloitre, M. C., Pine, D. P., & Ross, J. R. (2005). Anxiety Disorders in Women: Setting a research agenda. Web.
Simpson, H. B., Neria, Y., Lewis-Fernández, R., & Schneier, F. (2010). Anxiety Disorders: Theory, Research, and Clinical Perspectives. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. Web.