Women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety than men, and women under 35 are the age group most at risk, new research out of the University of Cambridge has found.
Because women have more to worry about.
The report reviewed 48 previous studies to discover the underlying trends behind the condition. It found the following stats:
4% of the overall population will suffer from anxiety
Women and men under age 35 are more likely to experience anxiety than older individuals
Women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety than men
Pregnant women and new mums are more likely to show signs of obsessive compulsive disorder.
“Early adulthood is the period with the highest peak in anxiety,” the report states. “Women are almost twice as likely to be affected as men (female:male ratio of 1.9:1), with sex differences persisting over time and across high and low resource settings. Irrespective of culture, individuals under the age of 35 years are disproportionately affected by anxiety disorders.”
Anxiety is awful and all-encompassing to experience. It can manifest in shortness of breath, the feeling that everything is out of your control, a constant, underlying fear of something is will go terribly wrong, nausea, restlessness, debilitating low energy, muscle tension, sweats, irritability, impatience….
Aside from being awful to experience, anxiety has been linked to wider, long-term health problems like psychological disorders and substance abuse. This, more than anything, is why it’s important to understand the condition.
“Anxiety disorders – defined by excess worry, hyperarousal, and fear that is counterproductive and debilitating – are some of the most common psychiatric conditions in the Western world,” the report states. “Clinical reviews have shown that the presence of an anxiety disorder is a risk factor for the development of other anxiety and mood disorders and substance abuse.”
Anxiety has also been linked to gastrointestinal disorders, chronic respiratory disorder and heart disease.
So why are women most affected?
Estrogen levels are linked with the fear response. Low estrogen levels – which occur throughout the menstrual cycle – leave women more perceptible to post-traumatic stress symptoms, and more likely to be affected by emotional disturbance. Higher, more regular estrogen levels, on the other hand, help calm the fear response.
Because estrogen is more stable in a men’s brain, compared to the female cycle, this could contribute to the ‘gender gap’ in anxiety levels – we have to deal with an over-reactive fear response once a month! For this reason, researchers are looking to the way the contraceptive pill, which helps regulate estrogen, can help manage anxiety and PTSD.
Mother, wife, professional, driver, nurse, nit remover, listener, sympathiser, leader, lover… Women are so used to multitasking (not to mention multitasking on a lesser wage) we don’t always realise (sometimes we do realise, in the worst, most flooring way) how these interchangeable roles might affect our anxiety levels.
“Women tend to multi-task – they do lots at once and are flexible – and so they use more of their actual brain than men do,” Professor Jim Horne, the director of the Sleep Research Center, told the New York Post.
This endless thought torrent, and habit of doing absolutely everything all at once, has been shown to contribute to anxiety. For this reason, Horne says, women need to sleep more. It’s to do with the way our brains are wired, and the way we process information. If we don’t get this sleep, it will lead to psychological distress and a downright bad time for the other people in our lives.