Most Common Symptoms of Anxiety in Women
Women with anxiety may experience physical and emotional symptoms like worry, irritability, or sleep difficulties, that cause distress and interfere with their ability to fully enjoy their lives. In small doses, anxiety can be beneficial and can motivate you to take action. However, chronic and severe anxiety that interferes with your life can be detrimental and a sign that you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Common symptoms of anxiety in women include:
- Muscle tension
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach and nausea
- Hot flashes
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Excessive fear or worry
- Changes in behavior, such as avoiding things that cause anxiety
- Difficulty focusing or making decisions
- Feeling restless or on edge
Types of Anxiety Unique to Women
Anxiety is a common mental health condition among both men and women. Despite this, women face unique experiences throughout their lifetimes that can cause or worsen anxiety.3 Women experience significant hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause that can put them at greater risk for anxiety during these times. Anxiety during pregnancy or the postpartum period is referred to as perinatal anxiety.
Types of Anxiety unique to women include:
Prenatal anxietyApproximately 6% of women experience anxiety during pregnancy, which is a time marked by significant hormonal changes.5 The stress of preparing for motherhood and childbirth can also contribute to anxiety during pregnancy.
Anxiety during pubertyPuberty is a time in a young woman’s life marked by significant hormonal changes and stress.3 Before puberty, boys and girls tend to experience similar rates of anxiety, but when puberty hits, adolescent girls are more likely than their male counterparts to develop anxiety.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)Involves depressed mood and anxiety during the week before and the first few days of menstruation.2,4 Women may also feel overwhelmed and experience difficulty concentrating, fatigue, changes in sleep and appetite, physical symptoms like temporary weight gain, breast soreness and swelling, and muscle or joint pain.
Postpartum anxietyAround 10% of postpartum women experience anxiety during the first year after giving birth.5 Postpartum anxiety may occur along with depression or on its own.
Anxiety during menopauseSimilar to puberty, menopause is another time period that involves significant hormonal changes that can put women at risk of developing anxiety.3 Women who experience physical symptoms like hot flashes and insomnia are more likely to develop anxiety during menopause. In some cases, hormone therapy may help alleviate symptoms.
Causes & Risk Factors of Anxiety in Women
Anxiety is often caused by a combination of biological and environmental factors. In general, genetics, hormonal changes, and stress can explain why some women develop anxiety.1 Like men, women who have a family history of anxiety or those who experience trauma or other stressful events are more likely to develop anxiety. Women are particularly vulnerable to experiencing anxiety during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause because these events involve significant hormonal changes.
Risk factors are those experiences that increase the likelihood that a person develops a condition. There are several different risk factors that can increase the chances that a woman experiences anxiety, including:
- Diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- An avoidant coping style (i.e. avoiding rather than facing negative emotions, such as not leaving the house for fear of having a panic attack)
- Family history of anxiety
- Poor support system
- History of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
Risk factors for anxiety during the perinatal period (i.e. pregnancy and postpartum) include:
- Family history of mental health issues
- Experiencing sleeping problems
- Having a difficult pregnancy or birth, including a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG)
- Giving birth to multiples (e.g. twins, triplets)
- Low income
- Living with other extended family members
- Limited support system
- Having a poor relationship with one’s partner
- History of anxiety or another mental health condition
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Managing Your Anxiety
Whether or not you choose to get treatment for your anxiety, you can benefit from making certain lifestyle changes if you have not already. Taking care of your mind and body can help you recover from your anxiety.
Seven coping strategies that may help women experiencing anxiety are:
Don’t Over Consume CaffeineWhile small doses of caffeine can increase energy and alertness, too much caffeine can negatively affect your anxiety and cause irritability, headaches, and sleeping problems.14 If you use caffeine, try to limit it to less than 400 milligrams a day and 200 milligrams if you are pregnant. Some coffee and energy drinks have high levels of caffeine, so be sure to check how much you are drinking and also avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening hours.
Get Enough SleepSleeping issues are common among people with anxiety. In fact, up to 50% of people with generalized anxiety disorder experience sleeping problems.13 Insomnia can be both a risk factor for anxiety and a symptom of it. If you are experiencing sleeping issues, be sure to avoid substances that can impair your sleep, like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. You can also practice good sleep hygiene by keeping a consistent sleep and wake schedule, avoiding electronic devices before bed, and creating a dark, distraction-free environment in your bedroom. If you continue to struggle with sleep, consider speaking with your healthcare provider. You may benefit from further testing or treatment.
ExercisePhysical activity is important for your physical and mental health and is associated with lower levels of anxiety.12 Experts recommend at least 60 minutes of light aerobic exercise, like walking, or 20 to 30 minutes of more rigorous exercise, like running, at least 4 days a week. If you are new to exercising, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new regimen.
Find Time for Self-CareSelf-care is any act that brings you positive feelings. Finding time each day to do at least one positive activity for yourself can help reduce stress, which can make you less prone to feeling anxious. What activities are considered self-care vary depending upon what you personally enjoy, but some examples include exercising, taking a bath, reading, or connecting with a loved one.
Try MeditationMeditation techniques, like mindfulness, yoga, and tai chi, all involve non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Countless studies have shown that practicing meditation can help decrease anxiety.12 Meditation is believed to affect areas of the brain involved in attention and focus and also stimulate the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin. If you are new to meditation, you can consider taking a class or practicing on your own by watching a guided video. Just a few minutes of meditation a day can provide significant benefits.consistent results over time.
Speak Up!Many women with anxiety will put off speaking up or seeking help for a number of reasons. If you have tried alternative ways to deal with your anxiety and just feel like it is not working or not enough, do not hesitate to seek professional help. For some women, getting help is necessary for recovery. There is no reason to suffer in silence when other options are available.
When & How to Get Help With Anxiety
It is never too early to get help for your anxiety. In fact, waiting too long may cause unnecessary suffering. Untreated anxiety can negatively affect many areas of your life, including your mood, relationships, and ability to function at work, school, or home. If your anxiety is mild and not significantly affecting your life, you may be able to deal with it on your own with by taking care of your physical and mental health, practicing self-regulating activities like havening, and connecting with your support system.
However, if your anxiety is causing you distress, negatively affecting your life, and does not go away within a few weeks or months, then you should strongly consider getting help.