How Anxiety Works
Imagine a trip to the grocery store where your biggest worry isn't finding good food at affordable prices, but the fear that your heart will start pounding, that you won't be able to catch your breath, and that you might feel like you're going to die. For the millions of women with anxiety disorders, fears like these are real and debilitating. Luckily, they are also treatable.
Nearly twice as many women as men suffer from certain forms of anxiety disorders. "There are a number of theories as to why anxiety disorders are more prevalent in women. Hormonal changes may sensitize women more to stress and anxiety than men. And women have many demands placed on them, and they often suppress their own needs, which creates a lot of stress and anxiety," says Elizabeth Carll, PhD, stress and trauma specialist in private practice in Long Island, New York, and past president of the media division of the American Psychological Association.
Anxiety is a normal human response to stress that everyone experiences from time to time. "The difference between experiencing anxiety and having an anxiety disorder is that with an anxiety disorder symptoms don't go away, they persist," Dr. Carll says. Anxiety disorders can develop at any age; they can occur even in young children.
The exact cause of anxiety disorders is not known, but researchers have several theories including a biological tendency toward anxiety, genetic factors (20 to 25 percent of people with anxiety disorders have a relative with a similar disorder), stressful events, and other illnesses or medications.
When anxiety disorders occur, treatment is important. "Untreated anxiety can have a devastating affect on a woman's life and, in addition, depression may develop from the ongoing feelings about being unable to cope, so it's important to diagnose and treat anxiety disorders as soon as possible," says Dr. Carll.