Anxiety symptoms in women are generally the same as in men:
- Thoughts about everything that can go wrong or something that might be wrong already
- Obsessive thoughts
- Insomnia (sometimes a result of the thoughts)
- Chronic fatigue
- Becoming stressed quickly and easily
- Sudden fear of death, embarrassment, illness, etc.
- Fight-or-flight responses to something that can’t cause physical harm
- Repeating ritual behaviors more than necessary (checking locks, grooming, etc.)
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
- Feeling like you’re choking
- Hot flashes
- Muscles tightening
- Muscle aches
- Hairs standing up
- Hives and rashes
The differences lie in how women tend to express and process these symptoms, and how they often focus their anxiety on certain issues more than men. There are also genetic, biological and neurological differences that make women more likely to develop anxiety and experience symptoms more frequently.
Anxiety Symptoms in Women Related to Gender-Specific Experiences and Behaviors
Only women can have certain experiences that cause stress and contribute to the development of anxiety or an anxiety disorder. These include pregnancy, childbirth and miscarriages. Sometimes their anxiety symptoms (mentioned above) will be related to these experiences.
There are anxious behaviors women have more than men. Therapist Helen Odessky cited the example of women repeatedly applying and reapplying their makeup when they are dealing with anxiety. Because of societal pressures and sexism, women are also more likely to cope with anxiety by performing stereotypically female roles such as excessively cleaning and shopping, according to therapist Asta Klimaite.
Women Tend to Express Anxiety Symptoms Differently Than Men
There are societal and cultural factors that pressure men to repress their emotions. When they feel anxiety, they often do not express it. On the other hand, there is little pressure for women to hide their emotions.
“Women have social permission to feel most of their feelings, and they get support from others when they confess to anxiety,” said therapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D and author of “It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction.” “Men are not supported in this way and are supposed to ‘suck it up’ and not admit to weakness.”
Because it is easier for women to express their emotions, their anxiety symptoms tend to be more visible. They are often more comfortable discussing their anxiety among friends, family and peers.
Women Tend to Focus Their Anxiety Symptoms on Different Issues
Both men and women have anxiety about their careers, family life, health and appearance. The difference is women tend to focus their anxiety more intensely and more often on certain issues. Because of sexism, societal pressures and the lingering impact of traditional gender roles, women usually worry about appearance and taking care of others more than men do.
Women are also more likely to have anxiety about balancing and performing well in all of their roles (professional, partner, mother, daughter, caretaker, etc.), according to Odessky. They experience anxiety regarding how one role might detract from another. They also focus more often on aging and the fear of being childless or alone forever, according to therapist Dr. Friedemann Schaub, author of “The Fear and Anxiety Solution.”
Related to the issue of balancing roles, perfectionism has been a common source of anxiety symptoms in women, Klimaite said. They feel pressure to present themselves perfectly and perform flawlessly.
Because women are more often victims of violence, many women have anxieties regarding their safety. Due to the rise of politicians and movements that seek to deny rights to women and have perpetuated violence against women, this has become a bigger issue in recent months, according to therapist Keeley Teemsma.
The Biological and Neurological Sources of Anxiety Symptoms in Women are Different Than In Men
- Female hormones, including estrogen, more readily trigger a part of the brain that controls the fight-or-flight response. Female experiences such as pregnancy release these hormones. This makes women experience anxiety more frequently than men.
- There is evidence to suggest female brains cannot process serotonin as quickly as male brains. Serotonin counters anxiety, among other functions.
Working with Someone Who Specializes in Anxiety Symptoms in Women
There are mental health professionals who specialize in working with women who want to manage their anxiety symptoms. If you’re suffering with these symptoms and want some relief, consider working with one of them. Remember that a therapist can help you address the causes of your symptoms and provide more long-term relief than medication.