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Women and anxiety

While no individual experiences anxiety the same as another, women tend to experience higher rates of anxiety disorders than men, peaking during the perinatal period. In addition, women’s symptoms differ from men’s.

  • Perinatal is the period encompassing a woman’s pregnancy and the three months following delivery
  • Perinatal anxiety is clinically significant anxiety that develops during pregnancy or postpartum

The reasons for the differences between men’s and women’s anxiety disorders are not well understood. Biological theories have found inconclusive differences between men and women. Other theories have looked at the socio-cultural and psychological reasons for the difference. For example, women and men tend to be socialized to respond to fear differently: women are allowed to withdraw and men are encouraged to approach.

Higher rates of anxiety in women
Starting in childhood, girls have higher rates of anxiety disorders than boys. In fact, by the age of six, more girls are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This difference continues through adolescence and into adulthood, when twice as many women have an anxiety disorder compared to men.

  • girls are six times more likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder 
  • boys have higher rates of OCD until puberty, when it evens out 
  • women are more likely than men to have panic disorder, GAD, agoraphobia and PTSD
  • women are twice as likely as men to have a phobia 
  • there are the least gender differences in social anxiety and OCD

Differences in the way anxiety looks in women
Not only do girls and women have higher overall rates of anxiety disorders than boys and men, but they also tend to struggle with specific anxiety disorders and have a tendency toward certain symptoms or difficulties. Research in the area of anxiety disorders has revealed some differences between men and women.

  • women report more body-based symptoms of anxiety
    • specifically, women who have panic attacks report more shortness of breath, faintness, and smothering sensations
  • women with OCD report that their obsessions more often centre around cleaning, while men’s obsessions tend to be around symmetry or touching
  • panic disorder appears to be more chronic in women 
  • girls and women both report a greater number of worries and more separation anxiety
  • women with anxiety disorder have a tendency to also struggle with GAD, somatization disorder and agoraphobia

 

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital