Of Women and Anxiety

Articles

Anxiety disorders — like other mental health disorders — can affect anyone, irrespective of their age, race, gender or sexual orientation. However, statistics have revealed that women are at a higher risk of dealing with anxiety than men.

Results from research funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research show that women were found to be twice as likely to be affected as men (female: male ratio of 1.9:1). These results were consistent across different countries and comorbidities.

What are the contributing factors?

Social Upbringing

A major factor to be considered is social upbringing. In an interview with The Cut, author and Wall Street Journal writer, Andrea Petersen highlights research finding that shows how boys are much more likely to be encouraged to be independent and assertive, whereas girls are much more likely to be discouraged from such conduct.

She infers that such experiences contribute to feelings of vulnerability, breeding a certain type of fear in girls that makes them cautious and wary of their safety because of the perception of the world as a dangerous place.

Hormonal Changes

Another factor that could predispose women to anxiety disorders, is the existence of hormonal changes associated with reproduction.

These hormonal changes could make one susceptible to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a type of anxiety disorder that is characterised by repetitive thoughts, compulsions and obsessions.

Stressors

An essay in The Conversation suggests that women are more prone to stressful situations and they tend to react to them differently from men.

Women are more inclined to internalize and ruminate about them, which can increase their anxiety, while men tend to externalize stress by engaging in active, problem-focused coping or escape activities.

Fear of Sexual Assault

Anxiety could also stem from the fear of sexual assault. In a recent survey by W&A aimed at understanding the effects of sexual assault on mental health, some respondents cited ‘fear of going out alone’, ‘being in closed spaces’ and ‘fear of being raped or assaulted or harassed..’ as some of the fears they identify with as women.

Occurrences of Sexual Assault

Asides from fear, the actual occurrence of sexual assault is another factor that makes women more vulnerable to anxiety.

Women are at a greater risk of dealing with traumatic experiences such as sexual assault, abuse and rape- incidents which tend to lead to mental health issues such as anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While men and women experience PTSD at similar rates after events such as a natural disaster, women who experience personal attacks (such as violence) are more vulnerable to PTSD.

How can things change? 

Collaborative systems should be set up at schools, workplaces, religious organizations, etc that are safe and open. These systems come in the form of key players and actors educating themselves on factors that enable the unhealthy culture that in turn become stressors. 

Conversations around mental health and its impact on should be normalized in every space women occupy. 


If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault, please contact Women at Risk International Foundation (WARIF), Stand to End Rape (S.T.E.R) or Mirabel Centre.

Also, if you deal with any form of an anxiety disorder (or suspect that you do) and would love to get some help, please contact Working & Anxious or Mentally Aware Nigeria. You’re not alone in this.


Read the stories in our new #MeVsAnxiety series here.

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