Women and Anxiety: Twice as vulnerable as men. Why?
If the thought of delivering a speech makes your heart race, your palms sweat, and your stomach turn, you are not alone. Fear of public speaking ranks ahead of illness and dying. Why? Many women dread the public embarrassment and humiliation that might come from making a mistake, being perceived as incompetent, or being judged.
For some women, however, this fear becomes overwhelming to the point that it interferes with their daily lives. They might retreat into a "safe" job with little public contact or turn down a job that requires making presentations. When that happens, the fear has escalated into a more intense state - anxiety. From a biological standpoint, anxiety is grounded in the "fight or flight" response that protects human beings from real physical threats.
Anxiety isn't bad. It motivates us to get out of harm's way and is an important part of living," according to Jerilyn Ross, M.A., L.I.S.W., and author of Triumph Over Fear: A Book of Help and Hope for People with Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Phobia. "But when anxiety becomes disproportionate to the situation and leads to avoidance of the fear-inducing situation and other undesirable consequences, it should be assessed", says Ross.
The Female Factor
Women are more prone to anxiety due to a variety of biological, psychological and cultural factors. Although the exact cause is unknown, recent research suggests that fluctuations in the levels of female reproductive hormones and cycles play an important role in women's enhanced vulnerability to anxiety. There is also some evidence that women become more anxious when their levels of estrogen and progesterone are low, such as in premenstrual syndrome (PMS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), post-partum depression, and menopause.
Some research points to psychological and cultural factors playing a role in a woman's propensity towards anxiety. These theories propose that women are less assertive and thus more vulnerable to stress, or that it is more acceptable for women to express fear. Ross doesn't buy this theory, which she believes furthers a stereotypical view of females.
Finally, genetics plays a role in susceptibility to anxiety.