If you worry almost constantly and seemingly uncontrollably about the decisions you’ve made, the things you’ve said, whether a loved one will get home safely from a daily commute, or that “something bad” will happen, you’re not alone — especially if you’re a woman. New research shows that anxiety disorder rates in North America and Europe are higher than in other parts of the world, and anxiety rates are nearly double for women versus men.
“Anxiety, and even worry, are normal parts of everyday life, and everyone feels anxious sometimes,” said Geisinger psychologist Julie Hergenrather, PhD. “Constant worry that interferes with daily life and a person’s overall sense of wellbeing might suggest a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder.”
Researchers aren’t certain why women are more prone to anxiety than men but differences in brain chemistry, hormonal fluctuations and genetics may play a role. In fact, pregnant women have higher rates of generalized anxiety disorder than their non-pregnant counterparts. One thing is certain: anxiety disorders are not the result of a personality flaw or weakness.
“Anxiety disorders can develop during times of prolonged stress, as the result of a trauma or loss of loved one, during a major life transitions like pregnancy, menopause, moving, job uncertainty, or any number of upsetting events,” said Dr. Hergenrather. “To an extent, family history can determine your risk for anxiety, just like it can for other health issues like cancer or heart disease.”
Generalized anxiety disorder can range in severity, but some symptoms include:
- Excessive, uncontrollable worry more days than not
- Feeling uneasy or keyed up
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
If worry is holding you back in your personal or professional life, it’s important to speak to your doctor about it. He or she will likely conduct a physical exam to determine if your feelings are linked to another medical condition or medication. Your physician will also ask you about your symptoms and any life changes that are currently taking place.
“If anxiety interferes with daily life or your sense of overall wellbeing, and if it lasts for more than six months, your doctor may diagnose you with an anxiety disorder,” said Dr. Hergenrather.
Treatment for anxiety typically includes cognitive behavior therapy, which teaches you to assess how reasonable the worries are, how likely the things worry about will actually happen, and how to worry more productively. Treatment also includes helping you cope with the uncertainty of the future and learning to not avoid things that make you anxious. Relaxation training, problem-solving techniques and even mindfulness meditation can be part of the treatment. Usually, worriers feel better in just a few sessions. In some cases, a doctor will prescribe medication to treat an anxiety disorder.
“With the evidence-based cognitive and behavior therapies, you can learn to understand what’s maintaining your anxiety and the triggers you are responding to. The coping strategies that are taught are highly effective,” said Dr. Hergenrather.
In addition to therapy, regular exercise, yoga and staying engaged in enjoyable activities can help improve your mood and curb feelings of anxiety. Reducing caffeine or alcohol intake can also improve the symptoms of an anxiety disorder.