Understanding Anxiety

“I feel anxious.” It’s one of the most common expressions a therapist hears. Even though we talk about it more often than we realize, do we truly understand what anxiety entails?

In a nutshell, anxiety is simply an automatic reaction to physical, emotional, and cognitive threats. It’s essentially a survival strategy. When our brain identifies a threat, it automatically triggers the anxious response.

Thousands of years ago, the cavemen who faced a deadly tiger needed to act quickly in order to save their family, and anxiety was key for that. Although we live in the age of nano technology and space exploring, from an evolutionary point of view it hasn’t been long since we were cavemen. So the human body hasn’t refined its reaction to fear, and it responds the same way whether we’re dealing with a tiger or an aggressive email from our boss. Today, having an anxious state of mind is often brought on by deadlines, social expectations, body image, and so on. The tiger lives in our minds.

Anxiety's Impact on Women

According to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), at present the most prevalent health disorders are anxiety disorders, and the lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders in women is approximately 40%, twice that in men (Gregory, et. al, 2020).

In multiple studies over the world, women have outnumbered men in prevalence of anxiety, trauma-related and stress-related disorders, along with increased symptom severity, comorbidity, and burden of illness.

Causes of Anxiety

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Hormone cycles are known to contribute to the greater prevalence and longer duration of anxiety disorders in women. Female hormone fluctuations that characterize the female reproductive cycle may enhance vulnerability factors for anxiety disorder development; and may facilitate anxiety symptoms following anxiety disorder development (Li & Graham, 2017) .

Childhood trauma, as well as separation anxiety early in life, can also increase the risk of anxiety disorders later in life.

Several studies have proven that one of the most important psychosocial risk factors for mental disorders in women is gender based violence (Oram & Howard, 2016). Results clearly demonstrate that women experience different forms of gender-based violence much more often than men (domestic violence, gender harassment, workplace discrimination, inequalities), and that this is associated with higher rates of posttraumatic stress, anxiety, and depression (Riecher-Rössler, 2017).