About Anxiety
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The Reasons Behind Anxiety in Women

Micah Abraham, BSc
The Reasons Behind Anxiety in Women

Anxiety is a much more common problem for women than it is for men. While this may be due in part to cultural and societal traditions and expectations, it is also due to the chemicals that make up our bodies and the myriad of physical changes that occur in women’s bodies and not in men’s.

This article will cover the primary causes of anxiety in women, as well as what women can do to minimize anxiety in their lives.

Chemical Imbalances That Cause Anxiety

There may be biological reasons that women may be more prone to anxiety than men. However, it should be noted that even though anxiety may be partially biological, there is evidence that it can be changed and altered with the right anxiety reduction techniques. 

Our bodies produce natural chemicals known as “neurotransmitters.” Neurotransmitters come in two general types: they can be either the “inhibitory” type, which promotes happiness and calm, or the “excitatory” type, which promotes (as you may have guessed) excitement, fear reactions, and stress.

Serotonin is an example of the inhibitory type of neurotransmitter, and it plays a role in proper mood and stress coping. Some studies have shown that men naturally have higher levels of serotonin in their bodies than women do. It has been hypothesized that the lower levels of serotonin in women’s bodies make them more alert and aware of environmental changes (whether physical or emotional), allowing them to avoid immediate and also potential physical threats. On the other hand, the higher levels of serotonin in men allow them to conserve their physical and emotional energy for reacting combatively to evident physical threats. Regardless, the end result could be anxiety as a result of low levels of serotonin. This hasn't necessarily been confirmed in research, but it is a fascinating theory.

Adrenaline and epinephrine are also two examples of the excitatory type of neurotransmitter. If these neurotransmitters are regularly triggered over an extended period, they can change the physical structure of the brain by causing it to create more receptors for the excess excitatory neurotransmitters and decrease its serotonin and dopamine (or “happy chemical”) receptors because it doesn’t have as many of them to process. This type of chemical imbalance causes the oversensitivity to environmental and emotional stimuli that is the main characteristic of anxiety.

So both of these may lead to the development of anxiety. However, it should also be noted you’re your body is affected by your mind and your experiences as well. Long term issues may result in changes to your chemical balance, thus creating more anxiety. Possible causes of chemical imbalances in women include:

Note that while these are often about male attitudes towards women and what it's like to be a woman in today's society, that doesn't mean that anxiety cannot also be the result of day to day stresses. In fact, it's entirely possible that women may experience more stress from things like:

The truth is that any long term stress of any kind may lead to the development of anxiety, and women – for reasons that aren't always clear – appear to be more prone to some of these stressors. Also, both men and women are often subjected to environments that can create anxiety, so your own anxiety may be unrelated to gender altogether.

Stress and the Female Fight or Flight Response

Another theory has to do with the female reaction in the fight or flight response. During the fight or flight response, “excitatory” chemicals are produced in response to stress as part of the fight or flight response wired into al humans. However, it works slightly differently in women than it does in men, further predisposing women to anxiety.

Fight or flight in both men and women begins in a region of the brain known as the amygdala, or amygdalae, a pair of almond-shaped neuron clusters near the brain’s base that regulate the storage of long-term memories of events based on the strength of the emotional reactions that accompanied them.

In men, the right amygdala is more responsive to stress and is associated with taking action. In women, as well as in people who suffer from anxiety and depression, the left side is more responsive and is associated more with thought and the recollection of details. Women, therefore, are more likely to dwell on stressful stimuli and vividly remember the details of stressful events in their lives than men.

Hormonal Imbalances that Cause Stress

Over the course of a woman’s life, she will find that her hormones are thrown off balance fairly often, with physical and emotional side effects of varying degrees of severity.

Hormonal imbalances have many symptoms which cause stress in and of themselves (such as irregular hair growth patterns, cramps, hot flashes and difficulty sleeping). When these symptoms persist, they (like any other persistent and stressful aspect of life) can result in the types of chemical imbalances that lead to anxiety disorders.

The endocrine gland, where hormones are produced, is affected by a variety of events in a woman’s life. Most of these events result in an increase in estrogen production, except menopause which decreases the levels of both sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) in the body. The natural causes of hormone imbalances in a woman’s life include:

In addition to natural causes, women are also more threatened by various unnatural substances that can cause hormonal malfunctions (though they can be dangerous for both men and women). Unnatural causes of hormonal imbalances in women include:

With all of these different issues, it may seem like anxiety for women is unavoidable. However, there are ways to prevent worsening both hormonal and chemical imbalances and to avoid some causes of chemical imbalances entirely.

Ways to Stay Chemically and Hormonally Balanced

Hormonal differences between men and women are harder to control. If your hormones are wildly out of balance, you may need to talk to your doctor. Interestingly, a big part of reducing your anxiety simply comes from reducing some of your stress. So if you are feeling a little off-balance, these tips may help you restore your mind and body to their former selves by minimizing the levels of anxiety and stress you encounter on a daily basis.

Keeping your life in balance isn’t easy for anyone, but women especially have a lot of stress to deal with, whether it’s due to mental predisposition, natural life events, unnatural substances designed for female use or societal pressure. If you’re a woman, surrounding yourself with people who will treat you with kindness and respect and treating yourself the same way are the best things you can do to keep your anxiety under your control. You can then follow those up with exercises that improve mental health, and you'll be able to battle your anxiety away.

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