Why do women experience anxiety more than men?
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
I’ve known for a long time that more women have anxiety than men. Actually, that’s not true, it’s what I have assumed. And after further research, it turns out my assumption was (sort of) correct.
Research has shown that women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men – quite a big difference! Read on as I explore the facts and reasonings behind the numbers.
Brain chemistry and hormones
As expected, our gender plays quite a big role in the way our brains and bodies function. The fight-or-flight response is more easily activated in women. It stays activated for longer too, partly as a consequence of estrogen and progesterone. Serotonin levels also have an effect on stress and anxiety, and evidence suggests that the female brain does not process serotonin as quickly as the male brain.
From a male point of view, the hormone testosterone, which is obviously more abundant in men, may help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. It seems that men are really winning when it comes to beating anxiety!
Physical and behavioural responses
Men and women also experience and react to situations differently. Women tend to be more prone to stress, which therefore increases their anxiety. Similarly, men and women tend to use different coping strategies when faced with stressful situations. Women are more likely to ruminate, whilst men are more likely to engage in more active, problem-focused mechanisms.
Another interesting fact I discovered, which rang true with my own experience, is that anxiety in men is more frequently misdiagnosed. This is especially true for panic attacks, often diagnosed as another physical issue. When my anxiety first kicked in, I spent months visiting different doctors, trying to find out what was wrong with my ears or eyes or brain. So I can imagine how common it is for anxiety to be misdiagnosed.
Women are more likely to seek help
Once I read this statement, I realised just how true it is. As a woman, I feel completely comfortable talking to my GP about my mental health, and I’d quite happily go out and find myself a therapist. It’s clear that men struggle to ask for help when it comes to their mental health, and that’s for a variety of reasons but perhaps the most harmful of them is toxic masculinity.
It really hit me hard to think of men suffering in silence, especially because living with a mental health issue does not make you weak, like non-sufferers may assume. You have to be so incredibly strong to live each day ‘normally’ when inside, nothing feels right. I can’t imagine how awful it would be to struggle through it alone.
Let’s change the narrative. If you feel as though a friend or colleague may need your support, reach out to them, tell them it’s okay to ask for help. Spread the message that having a mental health issue does not make you weak, it makes you strong.