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The body’s stress response, the one that prepares us to “fight or flight” in the face of an imminent danger—encountering a wild animal or a mugger, for example—is activated more readily in women than men and lasts longer. This may help explain why anxiety symptoms in women are twice as likely to occur than anxiety symptoms in men. But this is just a theory.
Finally, research also suggests that women’s brains may be more susceptible to the hormone corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). This hormone plays an important role in the regulation of the stress response.
More Theories Behind Anxiety Signs in Women
Another theory is that the female sex hormones progesterone and estrogen play a role in anxiety in women. Anyone who has suffered from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) knows that changes in female sex hormones can make you feel shaky and more vulnerable to stress.
Further thinking that female sex hormones may play a role in anxiety is evidence that anxiety disorders often manifest or worsen during pregnancy or during the first few weeks after having a baby. Some women also experience anxiety associated with menopause.
Contributing to the hormone hypothesis is the fact that supplementation with the male hormone testosterone can sometimes have anti-anxiety effects. Men, therefore, may be somewhat protected from anxiety disorders by their natural tendency to have higher levels of testosterone in their systems.
What Are Anxiety Symptoms in Women?
There are countless ways to ease your anxiety. As noted in this post by Jami Cooley, doctors may prescribe antidepressants such as Prozac and Lexapro. Just be aware that they won’t necessarily be effective and could cause side effects. (Click here to read “Anxiety Medication and Antidepressants: Do They Make a Difference?” See also our post “Over-the-Counter Anxiety Medication: Does It Work?“)
A number of natural means may help:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT helps you identify and change negative thoughts that may contribute to anxiety and panic. See our story
- “Anxiety Attack? These Types of Therapy Can Reduce Your Stress and Anxiety Symptoms.”
- Physical exercise: Exercise is “The Perfect Natural Antidepressant,” and it’s also important as a means of relieving stress. If you haven’t been particularly active, at least start a walking program. Just a half-hour a day at your own pace, for starters, can build quickly into a routine where you’re walking more briskly and for 45 minutes. See our post “The Benefits of Walking.”
- Breathing exercises: Give a try to breathing exercises; it’s proven in research to lower blood pressure. The calming effect will reduce anxiety as well; click here to read about how simple it is to try breathing exercises.
- Herbal treatments: Lavender is well known for calming restlessness nervousness, insomnia, and depression, per scientific research. Click here for more.
- Other natural remedies: Supplements and vitamins may help treat the root cause for anxiety attacks, as we discuss in “Natural Remedies and Vitamins for Anxiety and Panic Attacks and in “Serotonin Supplements to Treat Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia Yourself.”
There is some evidence that women are more likely to suffer from physical symptoms of anxiety than men. So, an anxious woman might go to her doctor complaining of chest pain, heart palpitations, stomachaches or nausea, muscle tension or pain, headaches, fatigue, sleep problems, or other physical symptoms.
Because of this, it can take some time before the anxiety is diagnosed. It is particularly important for women suffering from these symptoms to see their doctor, as there is evidence that women who suffer from physical symptoms of anxiety may be more vulnerable to heart disease.
In addition, a woman suffering from anxiety attack symptoms is also likely to have at least some of the mental or cognitive symptoms typically associated with anxiety, including excessive fear or worry that is difficult to control, obsessive thoughts, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and restlessness or feeling “on edge.”
For further reading, see these University Health News posts:
- “Panic Attack Symptoms: Nausea, Chills, Palpitations, and 11 Other Common Reactions“
- “Panic Disorder Symptoms: What They Could Mean”
- “What Is a Nervous Breakdown?“
Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.