Behavioral and Mental Health
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We all deal with stress from time to time. And our bodies are built to handle it. Our natural stress response—referred to as “fight or flight”—works to ward off threats. We may feel muscle tension or have trouble concentrating or sleeping. These reactions and others are usually short-term, but, sometimes, they continue. This long-term stress can turn into anxiety.
“Anxiety can lead to feelings of extreme fear, worry, or an impending sense of doom,” says Julie Manuel, a licensed professional counselor and clinical program manager at Kettering Health. “When these feelings cause dysfunction in your life, that’s when anxiety becomes a problem.”
If this sounds like you, it’s important to know you aren’t alone: nearly 20% of adults will experience an anxiety disorder. And studies have shown that women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men.
With all we’ve faced over the past year, stress and anxiety are running high. And as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we may find ourselves fearful about a “return to normal,” or we may feel less comfortable in social situations.
Manuel says if you have anxiety that prevents you from functioning or living life to the fullest, it’s time to seek help.
People use the word anxiety to describe common feelings they face in specific situations—like work issues or significant life decisions. But genuine anxiety doesn’t go away after your problem is solved.
There are several types of anxiety disorders. They include
- Generalized anxiety disorder: Daily anxious or worried feelings lasting at least six months.
- Panic disorder: Recurring panic attacks caused by a specific trigger or that happen without warning.
- Phobias: Intense fear or dislike of an object or situation. Phobias include fear of heights or needles as well as social and separation anxiety.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are also forms of anxiety. Each type of anxiety has specific symptoms that, if left untreated, can also cause health problems or problems with work or relationships.
“Anxiety can lead to headaches, body aches, and gastrointestinal issues,” says Manuel. “It can also cause increased heart rate and shortness of breath. These and the other physical effects of anxiety—over time—can lead to ulcers and even heart disease.”
The woman-anxiety connection
Manuel says that the differences in anxiety between men and women appear to be biological.
“Women and men have different brain chemistry and produce different hormones,” says Manuel. “As a result, women and men tend to use different coping mechanisms. For example, a woman’s ‘fight or flight mode’ is often easier to activate but more difficult to calm down.”
In addition to the biological differences linked to higher rates of anxiety in women, Manuel says there are also societal differences at play.
“Women tend to face different pressures in the workplace and at home,” Manuel says. “They often struggle with fears of failure or are consumed with thoughts that they can’t keep up with others.”
Treatment depends on how much dysfunction your symptoms create.
“I often hear from women that they felt stressed or anxious about doing something—going to work, for example,” says Manuel. “And my first question to them is ‘But were you able to do it?’ Knowing how much someone’s anxiety prevents them from daily living can help us to determine the best form of treatment.”
Manuel says a professional therapist can help you to decide the best way to manage your anxiety. They may recommend medications and therapy, either in one-on-one appointments or a group setting. She also points out that there are ways we can manage some symptoms through self-care. These include
- Exercise: To remove excess adrenaline, a hormone produced in response to stress
- Mindfulness: To become more conscious of your thoughts or feelings
- Positive affirmations: To encourage yourself and improve your state of mind
Opening up to a friend or loved one about your anxiety can also help.
“It can be uncomfortable to admit when we have certain feelings,” says Manuel. “But opening up to others will show you that you aren’t alone. Everyone has a story. Everyone struggles with something.”
Get the help you need
Manuel says anxiety symptoms can be terrible.
“Don’t wait to seek help. Please do it for yourself. You are worth it.”
If you struggle with anxiety, talk to your primary care provider or reach out to a therapist. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.