Staring at the ceiling, you’re unable to go back to sleep. Maybe your grown-up son is struggling to find his place in the world. Or you’re afraid your mom is starting to show the first signs of dementia.
These are stress-inducing events that many of us have experienced. But they still only scratch the surface of how much women worry. We can also be anxious about whether the plane will crash, if we’re living up to our potential or if we might have unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings.
It can seem like it never ends. Many of us come from a long line of worriers and unfortunately may continue in their footsteps. It must be part of our human nature. Even our elders often say what they regret most is spending so much of their life worrying.
There are three components of anxiety, according to the Harvard Health blog – emotional, physiological and cognitive, which is where worrying fits in. We all need anxiety, as it’s our body’s natural response to what it perceives as a threat. Not only does it warn us to fight or flee, it motivates us to have an annual medical exam or prepare for an important business meeting.
“Women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed…”
But at the other end of the spectrum are anxiety disorders that interfere with our daily lives. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed and although the cause hasn’t been definitively identified, hormones and our natural coping mechanisms have been included as suspects. Approaching trouble differently, men tend to engage in active problem-solving while women are known to ruminate. (This may also be why we often regret telling a man about a problem as he typically wants to jump in and fix it while we need to talk it through).
Anxiety is the most common mental health problem for women. Beyond disproportionate feelings of fear, worry and apprehension, it’s a serious medical condition, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Making it worse is that many people wait a decade between experiencing symptoms and seeking help, which can often lead to more severe anxiety or even the development of depression.
In its more basic form, anxiety triggers intense reactions in response to an ordinary or harmless situation. It is the anticipation or feeling of dread that something terrible is about to happen. There are several types of anxiety including:
Generalized Anxiety Disorders: Excessive worry about ordinary activities or events, such as health, family, money or work.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Occurs when a person is caught in a behavioral cycle of obsessions and compulsions.
Panic Disorder: Experiencing spontaneous and unexpected panic attacks which leads to a preoccupied fear of a recurring event. The unpredictability can cause intense anxiety between attacks.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Develops for some people who’ve experienced a shocking or dangerous event. It’s estimated that five out of ten women have or will experience a traumatic event.
Social Anxiety: Being overwhelmingly anxious and self-conscious in social situations.
The good news is that we’re neither alone in the diagnosis or helpless to change it. Those who seek treatment often make significant improvement in their quality of life.
If you suffer from anxiety, consider these options:
Worry is often called a waste of the imagination, since so much of what we fear never comes true. Like when mothers tell teenage kids who come home late that they were afraid they were lying in a ditch somewhere. I asked my own mother once why she envisioned such a terrible outcome but her somewhat clever answer was that she assumed if I had been anywhere else I would have been thoughtful enough to call. I didn’t fully appreciate her viewpoint until I became a mom.
But excessive worry and anxiety can waste much more than just our imagination. It can damage the fabric of our lives and stop us from appreciating the opportunities of each day. Corrie ten Boom, a concentration camp survivor after participating in the Dutch underground during the Nazi occupation once said “worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
When we worry, we get short-changed. It can feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, but it’s time to let go of some of that weight. And we should reach out for help if we need it. Don’t give up today’s energy for fear of tomorrow. Because being a woman, although amazing, still isn’t always easy. We have a lot on our plate. And most of us need all the strength we can get.
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