Anxiety disorders affect over 40 million Americans each year, and just like pairs of shoes and beauty items, women have significantly more anxiety episodes than men.
While each person is unique, in general, women tend to externalize feelings of anxiety while men internalize their feelings. However, there are a few commonalities between the signs of anxiety in women and men.
Common Signs of Anxiety in Women and Men
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- Fatigue and excessive tiredness
- Interrupted sleep patterns/waking up frequently in the middle of the night
- Difficulty concentrating
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting or feelings of “passing-out”
- Muscle tension
Signs of Anxiety in Men
- Decreased libido
- High blood pressure
- Digestive disturbances such as diarrhea
- Frequent urination
- Dry mouth
Signs of Anxiety in Women
- Night sweats or hot flashes
- Food cravings and over-eating
- Weight gain
- Depression symptoms such as feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or guilt
- Chronic fatigue symptoms and multiple somatic (physical) complaints that are emotionally- and/or hormonally-induced
- Social withdrawal
Hormonal Imbalance in Women Contributes to Anxiety
- Sex hormones, menopause, and anxiety. While there are many different causes of anxiety, a hormonal imbalance in women is the primary factor that differs from men. Women are twice more likely to experience anxiety during PMS, perimenopause, and menopause. In fact, anxiety is often the first sign of perimenopause. As women approach menopause, estrogen and progesterone levels often fluctuate widely, amplifying any existing anxiety symptoms. To find out if a hormone imbalance may be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, talk with an integrative physician who can test your estrogen, progesterone and testosterone levels. Don’t wait until you’ve reached menopause to have this test performed. It is a good idea to establish your natural hormone levels by getting a baseline test in your late thirties or early perimenopause. After testing, if your doctor feels hormone replacement therapy may be beneficial for you, consider bio-identical hormones. Bio-identical hormones are “plant-derived hormones” from precursors found in plants such as wild yam. With your doctor’s orders, a compound pharmacy can prepare customized hormone replacement using bio-identical hormones instead of synthetic hormones.
- Neurotransmitters and anxiety. Chronic depression and anxiety can be caused by a neurotransmitter (chemical) imbalance in your brain. Consistently high levels of excitatory neurotransmitters (adrenaline/epinephrine and noradrenaline/norepinephrine) and correspondingly low levels of the calming, inhibitory neurotransmitters (serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid [GABA]) can actually alter the brain’s circuitry.
Herbs for Anxiety
In addition to balancing hormones and taking vitamins for depression, herbs can also aid in reducing signs of anxiety in women or men. It is important to note that herbs will not address the root cause of your anxiety, but may be beneficial in reducing the symptoms.
- Lavender – Lavender oil as an essential oil in liquid format is more readily available than in capsules, and it can be added to bath water. Six drops of lavender oil extract or 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dried lavender flowers may be added to bath water. You can prepare lavender tea using 1 to 2 tbsp. of whole, dried flowers for each cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 to 15 minutes, and use a tea infuser or strain before drinking. To learn more about lavender oil, click here.
- Valerian Root – For daytime anxiety, take 150 mg (standardized extract of 0.8% valeric acid) three times daily. For difficulty with sleep, start with 150 mg, 45 minutes before bed. If that dose is insufficient, gradually increase to 600 mg. If you are using the herb, use one teaspoon of powdered valerian root in one pint of boiling water for ten minutes in a covered pot and then strain. Drink one cup per day before bed. You can also add 1 drop of valerian oil to bath water. Valerian root can be used in four to six week intervals. After six weeks, two to four week breaks are recommended before re-starting the herb.
- Kava Kava – The standardized extract potency of its active ingredient, kavalactone, should be 30%. For daytime relief of anxiety, take 250 mg to 300 mg once daily at bedtime. You can gradually increase the dose to three times daily with meals. Kava kava should not be used for more than 3 months without a 2-week rest period. Kava kava should also not be consumed by people who have liver disease. If you are taking any prescription medications, do not take kava kava without talking with your doctor first.
 National Institute of Mental Health
This post originally appeared in 2013 and has been updated.