What Women Need To Know About Anxiety

Woman sharing her experiences during a group therapy session.

Stress will always be a part of life. Anxiety is your body's natural reaction to stress. In some ways, anxiety can be beneficial. For instance, it can provide motivation to complete a challenging task.

But when anxiety starts to negatively affect daily activities, becomes unmanageable or gets worse, it is known as an anxiety disorder and can have a negative impact on your life.

Researchers continue to study why women are more than twice as likely as men to have an anxiety disorder. Some studies have shown that hormonal changes, pregnancy and menopause affect women’s mental health. Other factors such as genetics and traumatic events, such as sexual assault, are linked to anxiety disorders. Also, some types of anxiety disorders affect women more than men. These include generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia and panic disorder.

Serious health problems can arise when feelings of anxiety persist and become overwhelming. Anxiety increases the risk of heart disease and can make recovery harder after a heart attack or stroke. Anxiety may worsen or be linked to other conditions in women such as depression, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain and asthma.

Diagnosing anxiety

Getting a medical diagnosis is the first step in treating anxiety and anxiety disorders. Sometimes anxiety occurs on its own, and sometimes it is linked with depression. Make an appointment to meet with a health care professional to discuss your mental health concerns. At the visit, you will talk about your health and medical history. You may also have a physical exam or tests to make sure another health problem is not causing your symptoms. Tell your health care team if your anxiety:

  • Is excessive and uncontrollable
  • Has lasted for at least six months
  • Interferes with daily life, including work or relationships

Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety can feel different for every woman. Plus, each type of anxiety disorder can have various symptoms. Women with anxiety disorders often experience:

  • Thoughts or beliefs that cause nervousness, restlessness or irritability and interfere with daily life.
  • Physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath or dizziness.
  • Behavior changes, including avoiding activities that were previously enjoyed.

Treating anxiety

Discuss treatment options with a health care professional. There are many ways to ease anxiety symptoms, and treatment will depend on a number of factors. Some options work better for specific types of anxiety disorders. You may be prescribed medications, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs or beta-blockers.

Your health care professional may also suggest psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. Your treatment plan may change if you are planning to become pregnant or are breastfeeding. A health care professional will find treatments that are safe for you and your baby. Never stop taking or change a medication dosage without approval. It may take time to find the right combination of methods to see improvement.

Lifestyle changes may help anxiety

In addition to taking medication and counseling, some lifestyle changes may help improve quality of life and lower anxiety levels. Consider making healthy changes such as:

  • Getting physical activity to increase brain chemicals that improve mood and affect anxiety and depression.
  • Eating nutritious foods to promote overall wellness and keep your brain and body functioning.
  • Keeping a healthy sleep schedule getting 7-9 hours nightly.
  • Avoiding anything that increases anxiety such as excess caffeine, alcohol, or other substances.
  • Creating a support network of family members and friends who can help you find ways to cope. Or join an in-person or virtual support group to connect with others.

Help is available

If you or a loved one is having a medical emergency related to anxiety, always call 911 immediately. Do not feel embarrassed or guilty if you need help. Mental health conditions can affect any woman at any time. Hope and treatment are available.