Andrea Peterson, author of On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety, writes that the greatest risk factor for an anxiety disorder is not genetics, past trauma or stressful life experiences.
Simply, it’s being born female.
A study released over the weekend by Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, found that 40 per cent of Australian women have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or depression by a doctor or psychologist.
A “concerning” number expressed issues with sleep and reported, “worrying excessively about different things”.
For most of us, 40 per cent looks very much like two meaningless digits. We can’t quantify it – and we certainly can’t feel it. “Worrying excessively,” sounds clinical and emotionless, when anxiety is by it’s very nature emotional.
So what do those statistics actually look like?
They look like lying under your bed for hours at a time, yet feeling as though you’re tripping down a flight of stairs. It’s moving through the world believing you’re an empty vessel – watching yourself from above, convinced you’re in a dream.
It’s chronic, unwavering guilt. It’s self-sabotage – preparing for things that matter to you and freezing. It’s lying awake in bed at 4am, feeling as though there’s a tonne of bricks on your chest. It’s hating yourself more than you’ve ever hated anyone. It’s believing a terrorist attack or a natural disaster is imminent. It’s wondering if these heart palpations will kill you.
To be clear, this is the crisis we are talking about. This is what women live with.
It’s one thing to identify that women’s mental health is a national emergency. But it’s another – far more difficult task – to try and determine the cause.
The first theory is a lack of exercise.
Helen Brown, the director of the survey that involved 10,000 Australian women aged 18 to 80, found a correlation between the rise in mental health issues, and a steep decrease in physical activity in women.
Brown says, “It was really interesting that 60 per cent of women nationwide said they weren’t active enough, as that’s almost counter-intuitive considering that physical activity is a great way to deal with anxiety.”
POST CONTINUES BELOW: We are living in the Age of Anxiety. Three anxious women discuss.
The second theory is that technology and social media are to blame.
“I think they put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to be ‘ever-ready’, to be on Instagram et cetera, which means they constantly have their phone in their hand and being ready for it,” Brown says of Australian women.
The third theory is that anxiety disproportionately affects busy women.
“That work-life balance that we seem to promote so heavily preys on women, they feel guilty about it,” Brown says.