Why Does Being a Woman Put You at Greater Risk of Having Anxiety? by Cari Romm
Recall in my last two series post (part 1, part 2) that one of the contributing factors to my anxiety (aside from possibly it being biological in nature) is the traditional gender role nonsense I was taught by Christian sources – that gender role nonsense as taught by Christians commonly known today as “gender complementarianism.”
I was taught, under gender complementarianism, among other things, that God designed me to be, and wanted me, a female, to be, passive, sweet, to never stand up for myself (even if wronged), to lack boundaries, and I was taught that my feelings and needs are not important but that other people’s are.
All of that most definitely made me more fearful of other people, of taking chances in life, and going after what I want.
“There is no greater risk factor for anxiety disorders than being born female.”
Right now, an estimated 18.1 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder — going off of the most recent population count, that’s more than 58 million Americans over the age of 18 who spend their days feeling constantly on edge, or living in fear of far-fetched health problems or other people, or waiting for the next panic attack to strike, or battling a constant, all-encompassing sense of worry.
One of those people is Wall Street Journal writer Andrea Petersen, whose new book, On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety, details her struggle to stop her anxiety from taking over her life.
The more she learned about the disorder, Petersen explains, the more complicated it revealed itself to be: Anxiety is a mysterious cocktail of different risk factors — among other things, personality, family history of mental illness, past trauma, and stressful life circumstances can all play a role. But amid all the complexity, one thing has made itself clear: “There is no greater risk factor for anxiety disorders,” Petersen notes, “than being born female.”
“Women are about twice as likely as men to develop [an anxiety disorder], and women’s illnesses generally last longer, have more severe symptoms, and are more disabling,” she writes. “Anxious women are also more likely to develop an additional anxiety disorder, an eating disorder, or depression. In general, women ruminate more than men.”
All of which, she continues, raises the question: “Are women born anxious, or are we raised to be that way?” Science of Us recently talked to Petersen about the answer to that question, and the differences, both learned and innate, that contribute to the gender discrepancy in anxiety. Below is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.
[Question] You talk in the book about how girls absorb messages early on in life that can make them more anxious than boys. What does that process look like?
[Answer] There’s a pretty striking statistic that women have double the risk for anxiety disorders than men do. That’s something that I wanted to try to get at — why is that?
There are several hypotheses — there’s some evidence that hormonal factors come into play, that women’s fluctuating levels of estrogen may contribute — but the most interesting and most robust science is looking at the social factors, how little boys and little girls are raised and the differences there, and how those contribute to the greater risk for women to later develop anxiety disorders.
So there’s a whole body of dispiriting research showing how boys are much more likely to be encouraged to be independent, to be assertive, where girls are much more likely to be dissuaded from that behavior.
…what she [Canadian researcher] saw [on a playground] was this really striking difference in how boys and girls are encouraged, or not encouraged, to deal with risk.
So she did a series of studies with little boys and girls on a playground, and she had parents teach their kids to slide down a pole like you’d see at a firehouse.
And what she found is that boys were much more likely to be encouraged to be independent, while girls were much more likely to be cautioned about safety, about danger.
Even though boys and girls had the same skill level — both boys and girls were equally adept at actually using the equipment — the way parents treated them was very different, to the point where even when boys actually asked for help, parents said no.
A couple of boys tumbled to the ground off this fire-station pole because they couldn’t do it without assistance, and they were left on their own.
So while this kind of parenting may help protect girls physically, the research suggests that it also contributes to this feeling of vulnerability, that the world is a dangerous place. Because the message that sends to girls — encouraging them to be very cautious and always highlighting safety and danger — is that the world is a dangerous place, and that they can’t cope on their own. And that feeling of vulnerability of course is a core belief of anxiety as well.
….[Question] You mentioned that socialization was just one factor that researchers are looking into. What are some of the other things that might play a role in the gender discrepancy?
[Answer] Going back to some research that Michelle Craske cites in an earlier book, she conjectures that one reason why women might face a greater risk of anxiety is because of the kinds of trauma that they’re more likely to face. Research has shown that men generally have more traumatic experiences in their lives — things like serious accidents, experiencing or witnessing violence — but women are much more likely to be victims of sexual assault and abuse.
Craske conjectures that because that kind of bad experience is so uncontrollable and unpredictable, it may be more likely to lead to the development of anxiety disorders or PTSD.
There are also some people doing some really interesting things with sex hormones and how they influence anxiety. There’s some research looking at how sex hormones influence fear conditioning and extinction.
[On how to treat anxiety…]
This is all principled from cognitive behavioral therapy, which is one of the most evidence-based treatments for anxiety disorder. It’s all based on sort of gradually exposing yourself to situations that you fear. The main active ingredient in CBT is exposure therapy, so [this is] taking that and using that as kind of a preventive thing.
( read the rest here )
Notice that one of the treatment methods suggested is cognitive behavioral therapy – not prayer, not faith, not the Gospel, not Bible reading.