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This page was clinically reviewed by Christos Papalekas, Counselling Psychologist, CBT & EMDR Psychotherapist at Priory Hospital Hayes Grove and Priory Wellbeing Centre Fenchurch Street, in February 2022.

On this Page:

Prevalence  |  Causes  |  Symptoms  |  Treatment

Why is Anxiety More Common in Females?

It’s normal for everyone to feel anxious and worried from time-to-time and in certain situations. For example, you might get nervous when speaking in front of a room full of people, or you may feel on edge in the run up to a job interview. However, if you find that you’re worrying constantly about most things and are unable to ‘switch off’ your anxious thoughts, or cope with the physical symptoms of anxiety, it might be that you’re struggling with an anxiety disorder.

While anxiety can affect anyone, women are more likely than men to suffer with anxiety. Statistics on anxiety show that:

  • Women are more likely than men to struggle with agoraphobia, phobias, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Women are more likely than men to experience both anxiety and depression at the same time
  • Women are more likely than men to struggle with more than one anxiety disorder at the same time
  • In England, anxiety disorders are more common in young women (aged 16-24), than in any other age and gender groups
  • Globally, 7% of women are thought to have an anxiety disorder, compared to 2.8% of men

There are a number of factors that might explain why anxiety is more common in women than men. Women go through a number of life stages and experiences that are unique to them, which can cause or exacerbate anxiety. This can include things like fluctuating hormones, stress, body image issues and modern day pressures that women can face. It’s also important to note that women are often more likely than men to seek help and treatment for anxiety, which can result in increased diagnoses of anxiety in women than in men.

What Causes Anxiety in Women?

symptoms and causes of anxiety in women

Whether you’re a woman or a man, there are a number of potential causes of anxiety, and factors that can increase the likelihood of you developing anxiety at some point in your life. These include:

  • Experiencing abuse or neglect, especially if this happened during childhood
  • Having a close family member who struggles with anxiety or a family history of anxiety
  • Having a personal history of anxiety or other mental health problems
  • Suffering with a serious physical health condition such as cancer
  • Going through stressful or traumatic events such as the death of someone you love, losing your job or getting divorced

However, there are also some causes of anxiety that are specifically related to being a woman.

Hormones

Throughout their lives, women experience fluctuating hormone levels that relate to specific stages that their bodies go through. These stages include puberty, periods, pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. It’s thought that the hormonal fluctuations that come with these life stages can cause women to develop anxiety during these times in their lives.

Puberty

During puberty, young women go through a significant amount of change. Not only are their bodies changing, which can lead to body image issues, but at this stage in their life, they’re also likely to be experiencing other challenges. Peer pressure, problems with social media use and worrying about school are just a few examples. This, coupled with the significant hormonal changes that happen during puberty, can lead to anxiety.

Periods

Periods cause women to go through hormonal ups and downs all the way through the month, despite what stage in their cycle they’re at. Some women experience pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), which is known to have a negative impact on their mood and cause irritability and tiredness. PMS is fairly common, but some women can experience more serious symptoms as part of a disorder known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD results in significant mood problems, causing women to experience the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Pregnancy and childbirth

Women’s bodies also go through a lot of hormonal changes when they’re pregnant and after they’ve given birth. This is known as the ‘perinatal period’.

Prenatal anxiety happens during pregnancy, before the baby is born. It can focus on lots of different things including worries about giving birth and stress around getting everything ready for the baby to arrive. Anxiety in the prenatal period can be especially intense if the woman is having a difficult pregnancy or is struggling with debilitating morning sickness (known as hyperemesis gravidarum or ‘HG’).

Postpartum anxiety develops in the first year after the baby is born. Again, anxiety in the postpartum period can focus on anything from worrying about ‘bouncing back’ physically, to the health of the baby. Postpartum anxiety may also be more likely to happen to women who have given birth to multiples (twins, triplets or more). It can also occur alongside postpartum depression.

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Menopause

Lots of women also experience anxiety during the menopause – another time in a woman’s life that’s characterised by significant hormonal changes. A woman may be more likely to develop anxiety at this time if she is experiencing lots of the physical symptoms of menopause, including insomnia and hot flushes.

Stress

Women produce more stress hormone than men, which means they’re more likely to develop anxiety in response to stressful situations. These can include things like going through a divorce or suffering a bereavement.

Demands of modern life

In today’s modern society, women are under more pressure than ever and are expected to juggle lots of different demands. This can include working full-time, looking after a home and caring for children. These multiple demands can lead to anxiety, stress and other mental health problems, such as depression in women.

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Anxiety Symptoms in Women

There are a number of core anxiety symptoms that can affect anyone, no matter their gender. These include:

  • Worrying excessively, most of the time, about lots of different things
  • Impatience, irritability and angry outbursts
  • Panic attacks
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sleep and appetite changes
  • Physical symptoms including nausea, headaches, abdominal discomfort, and increased heartbeat

The symptoms of anxiety that you experience can also be related to the type of anxiety you’re struggling with.

The main difference in anxiety symptoms in women compared to men, is the fact that women are likely to experience them more often than men. In addition, women are more likely to experience anxiety symptoms that are specifically related to their unique life stages. This includes anxiety in the perinatal and menopausal periods, as well as anxiety relating to PMDD.

Treating Anxiety in Women

The good news is that anxiety is entirely treatable, whether you’re a woman or a man, and it’s possible for you to make a full recovery. At Priory, we offer world class anxiety treatment, helping you to overcome your challenges and return to the healthy and fulfilling life you deserve.

Treatment for anxiety typically consists of therapy techniques, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy, as well as medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

For more information on how we treat anxiety at Priory, please visit our mental health treatment programmes page.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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