This is it, you think to yourself. This is when something is going to go seriously wrong.
Your heart rate spikes out of nowhere and you notice your hands are sweaty and shaking. It feels like someone turned the thermostat to 90 degrees. You try to push your fears aside and continue working, but your concentration is long gone.
Is something wrong with me? I feel like I’m going to pass out. I have so much work to do. What if I can’t get it all done and lose my job? Are we okay financially? What will my kids do?
You shoot out of your chair and walk past your colleagues as calmly as you can, not a single one noticing anything out of the ordinary.
Why am I the only one feeling this way?
As you escape out of your office to the fresh air outside, your hyperventilating slows and you begin to regain your composure. Why does this keep happening to you? Is there a way to fix it? Maybe some wine could help take the edge off.
This is what anxiety can look like. It’s ugly and terrifying and leaves many women like you grappling with the fallout. And for some, alcohol or drug use is seen as an effective and easy way to cope.
Anxiety Disorders as a Woman
Anxiety disorders affect nearly 265 million people across the globe, but women are twice as likely to suffer from an anxiety disorder. While it may help to know you’re not the only one struggling, it doesn’t help you get to the bottom of your anxiety and figure out how to cope with it.
So, let’s take a closer look at some of the questions you may be wondering about anxiety.
What is an Anxiety Disorder, Exactly?
Anxiety is actually a normal reaction to stress. It’s that internal alarm that goes off, warning you of danger and telling you to be on alert. The problem is when this normal anxiety becomes excessive and leaves you in a constant state of fear, dread and worry that impacts your ability to function.
Some of the most common anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – This disorder is characterized by chronic anxiety that isn’t provoked by anything in particular.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – OCD is characterized by unwanted, obsessive thoughts, followed by compulsions like constant handwashing or counting to help temporarily relieve the anxiety.
- Panic Disorder – This disorder consists of episodes of intense, debilitating fear. Those struggling with panic disorder often have physical symptoms like chest pains, dizziness, stomach pains, etc.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PTSD is often triggered by a traumatic event that happened to you or that you witnessed. Those struggling with PTSD tend to suffer from symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – This disorder is diagnosed when a person suffers from such intense self-consciousness that they are unable to speak, eat or even interact with others in public.
Why Do Women Suffer from Anxiety More than Men Do?
As with anything related to our mental health, there are plenty of factors at play that affect a woman’s likelihood of suffering from an anxiety disorder compared to a man.
For starters, women are more prone to stress than men are. That’s not to say that men don’t suffer from stress, but women often cope with different types of stress – bearing and raising children, sexism, minority discrimination and trying to balance a career and family, to name a few.
But beyond that, women and men actually cope with stress differently. While men immediately seek out solutions to their stress, women tend to process it more, which can lead to greater levels of anxiety.
Hormones are another key difference when we look at why women suffer more from anxiety disorders than men do. Hormonal changes and reproduction have actually been linked to anxiety. This is especially true during pregnancy, where such significant changes in hormones can actually trigger OCD.
But what might be the truest source of truth as to why you are more prone to anxiety than your husband, father, brother or son is because of differences in your very own brain structure compared to a man’s.
A recent study found significant differences in the molecular structure of the locus coeruleus, the part of the brain responsible for producing the depression and anxiety-management hormone, norepinephrine.
When researchers studied this part of the brain in male and female mice, they found that the female mice had much more of a stress response receptor called PTGER3 than the male mice did and responded better to a calming drug meant to interact with the receptor.
The takeaway? Women’s brains are structured in a way that may leave them more vulnerable to anxiety, requiring medication to balance out the hormones and receptors responsible for stress, depression and anxiety.
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How to Cope with Anxiety Disorder
Suffering from an anxiety disorder can seem intimidating and scary. But the incredible truth is anxiety disorders can be treated and you can go on to live a normal, fulfilling life! All it takes is you taking the courageous step to get help.
This starts by talking to a doctor about your symptoms and the possibility that you’re dealing with an excessive level of anxiety. From there, your doctor can provide proper next steps, diagnosis and treatment.
Oftentimes, therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat anxiety. CBT is an effective way to fight anxiety because it identifies negative thought patterns and distortions, challenges them and then replaces them with more realistic, positive thoughts and behaviors.
Unfortunately, many women struggle to ask for help and turn to drug abuse to ease anxiety. In fact, about 20 percent of Americans with anxiety struggle with substance abuse, as well. While alcohol or other drug use can help to temporarily relieve your anxiety, it can ultimately worsen your anxiety and even lead to addiction.
Recovery from Anxiety and Substance Addiction is Possible at The Raleigh House
You raise a family and take care of your spouse and loved ones. You work and put everyone’s needs before your own. But now is the time to take care of yourself and get the care and treatment you need to overcome addiction and learn to cope with your anxiety.
At The Raleigh House, we know how easily anxiety disorders can lead to substance addiction. That’s why we provide dual diagnosis treatment, an evidence-based and holistic approach that targets both your substance use and mental health needs. Our mission is to help you break free from addiction, fear and anxiety, so you can get back to living a happy, exhilarating life.