Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point or another in their life. Anxiety is an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. They may avoid certain situations out of worry.
That feeling of butterflies in your stomach, your heart leaping into your throat, and other narrative cliches are experiences that are part and parcel of the human condition. What is to be done, however, when this feeling creeps into everyday life and everyday activities such as going to the post office or calling to book an appointment become riddled with stress and unjustified fear? Anxiety disorders are disabling, debilitating, and may in extreme cases increase the risk of depression and suicide.
If you’re a woman, the National Institute of Health reports that you’re likely to experience and be diagnosed with higher rates of anxiety, or generalised anxiety disorder, during your lifetime than men – twice as likely to be exact. Although research in the medical community is still inconclusive as to why this is the case, theories have been put forward that it may be due to biological and hormonal differences between men and women, specifically women’s responses to higher cortisol levels than men, which leads to increased overall anxiety.
Other factors responsible for generalised anxiety found in women involve societal pressures, expectations and the prevalence of airbrushed social media ideals and unrealistic beauty standards. While this exists for men as well, it is no secret that women are targeted at a higher rate by advertising companies and media, a casual example being the stigma of having body hair anywhere below your ears. Even an activity as routine as walking home on a night out can cause a spike in nerves. The freedom that exists for men, while indeed it does have its limits and may also become dangerous at times, seems to be streets away from the self-imposed safety rituals that most girls resign themselves to on nights out. Additionally, the fact that women are more likely to experience physical and mental abuse than men has also been linked to the development of anxiety disorders.
So, the question may be, by reversing such pressures from society and social media, would there be a decrease in the levels of anxiety found in women today? Or is the cause mostly biological? The National Health Service has also theorised that perhaps the differences in anxiety levels between men and women are not as extreme as studies portray, but could also be due to the reluctance of men to come forward for professional help, resulting in fewer diagnoses.
For now, however, all we can look at is the statistics. Here, the data clearly points towards a gendered phenomenon where anxiety takes different facets and degrees depending upon one’s gender identity.