Anxiety Symptoms in Women: A Quick Guide

Published on: 02 Feb 2017
Clinically Reviewed by Liz Kelly, LCSW
latina woman anxiety

Updated 12/8/2021. 

Anxiety symptoms in women are generally the same as in men. Anxiety can cause emotional and physical responses among both genders. The difference between genders is that women tend to experience these symptoms more often than men.

Some emotional symptoms of anxiety in women include:

  • 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.)

Physical symptoms of anxiety in women include:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling like you’re choking
  • Numbness
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes
  • Muscles tension or tightening
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Hairs standing up
  • Hives and rashes

The differences lie in how women tend to express and process these anxiety 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 these common symptoms more frequently.

Different Types of Anxiety Conditions

There are several different types of anxiety conditions that affect women. Read on to learn more about each. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with this condition always expect disaster to happen. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder experience excessive fear of daily activities.

Panic Disorder

Those diagnosed with this condition experience sudden panic attack or anxiety attack and may even have physical symptoms like sweating, heart palpitations, and more.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health condition that may develop when a person experiences a dangerous or traumatic event. The fear they feel triggers changes in the body to help avoid or defend itself from danger. Women with PTSD may experience flashbacks or other anxiety symptoms as a result of their trauma. 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is a mental health condition where a person experiences uncontrollable recurring thoughts and behavior.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Also known as social phobia, this condition is marked by phobia or fear of social settings. Women with social anxiety disorder may have a hard time interacting with people or attending social events. 

Prenatal and Postpartum Anxiety

Although pregnancy is thought to be a joyous and euphoric time, many women experience prenatal anxiety. This can often carry on into postpartum anxiety as well. Women who experience prenatal or postpartum anxiety experience symptoms similar to generalized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Symptoms in Women Related to Gender-Specific Experiences and Behaviors

Women can have certain experiences that cause stress and contribute to the development of excessive anxiety or an anxiety disorder. These include pregnancy, childbirth, and/or miscarriages. Sometimes their anxiety symptoms (mentioned above) will be related to these experiences.

There are some anxious behaviors women experience more than men. Therapist Helen Odessky gave the example of women repeatedly applying and reapplying their makeup when they are dealing with excessive 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.

“In most cultures, women have been viewed as being the more ‘emotional beings.’ As such, they are often more comfortable than men to express their emotions, like anxiety. Support is assumed outright for women.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC. 

Because it is often 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 that 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 may 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.). They experience anxiety regarding how one role might detract from another. Women may also focus more often on aging and the intense fear of being childless or alone.

Related to the issue of balancing roles, perfectionism has been a common source of anxiety symptoms in women. 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. They may feel more stress around their safety and the safety of those around them.

“Burnout from a lack of balance in the roles women take on, along with the constant need to socially compare oneself to others contributes to the increase in anxiety within women. The struggle with anxiety can lead to issues with self-confidence and self-esteem. “

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

The Biological and Neurological Sources of Anxiety Symptoms in Women are Different Than In Men

Women are more likely than men to develop an anxiety disorder, according to multiple studies such as this research published in Brain and Behavior. There are several factors for why this is:

  • 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 a Therapist 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 from anxiety 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 long-term relief with a variety of treatment options including therapy, medication, and/or other coping skills. Learn more about the different types of anxiety like social anxiety, OCD, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Sources:

  1. Women and anxiety. Women and Anxiety | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. https://adaa.org/find-help-for/women/anxiety. Accessed November 29, 2021. 
  2. Facts. Facts | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/women/facts. Accessed November 29, 2021. 
  3. Anxiety disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders. Accessed November 29, 2021. 
  4. Gender differences in anxiety disorders: Prevalence, course of illness, comorbidity and burden of illness. Journal of psychiatric research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135672/. Accessed November 29, 2021. 
  5. Gender differences in the neurobiology of anxiety: Focus on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Neural plasticity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4738969/. Published 2016. Accessed November 29, 2021. 
  6. Remes O, Brayne C, Linde Rvan der, Lafortune L. A systematic review of reviews on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adult populations. Wiley Online Library. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/brb3.497/abstract. Published June 5, 2016. Accessed November 29, 2021. 
  7. McLean CP, Anderson ER. Brave men and timid women? A review of the gender differences in fear and anxiety. Clinical Psychology Review. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272735809000671. Published June 8, 2009. Accessed November 29, 2021. 
  8. Nishizawa S, Benkelfat C, Young SN, et al. Differences between males and females in rates of serotonin synthesis in human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC24674/. Published May 13, 1997. Accessed November 29, 2021. 

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