BY CHAMINDI WIJESINGHE
As it turns out, people have softened up to the idea that there are psychological problems.
In fact, a study published in the journal Brain by Cambridge University and Behavior found that “more than 60 million people were affected by anxiety disorders every year in the EU.”
Simultaneously, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America stated that a woman is more likely to have anxiety than a man from puberty to the age of 50.
Let’s pause the engine right there. What exactly is anxiety and how does one identify it?
This condition manifests itself in numerous ways, but an umbrella definition that captures the essence of what it means to suffer from anxiety is
to be constantly worried to the point where seemingly normal tasks can feel overwhelming, making them near impossible to accomplish.
Restarting the vehicle, we come to the fact that, globally, women are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety as men. Difference in hormonal and brain chemistry between the two accounts for a portion of this fact.
Julian Somers coauthored one of the first international papers exploring gender differences in anxiety. A CNN article reported that his “new findings reaffirm that anxiety can be related to specific stressors, such as pregnancy, addiction or other health-related conditions.”
Men and women produce different doses of two types of natural chemicals called neurotransmitters that are our brain’s fuel for happiness, calm, fear and stress.
According to an article on calmclinic.com men “naturally have higher levels of serotonin (‘mood maker’ hormone) and the lower levels of serotonin in women’s bodies makes them more alert and aware of environmental changes, allowing them to avoid immediate and also potential physical threats.”
While this has a practical purpose, a low level of this hormone results in high anxiety. Even in the fight-or- flight response triggered by the amygdala, chemicals are released in such a way that women are more likely to dwell on stressful events.
Another common hormone that is guilty in increasing the stress level of women is the sex hormone, estrogen, that threatens an imbalance during the different cycles that women go through.
Most of our behavior is driven by how and what society perceives to be ‘normal’.
Moreover, the silent rules and the inequality between men and women in different group settings can accentuate anxiety disorders.
These social differences provide compelling reasons as to why there is a gap in diagnosis between men and women.
The debate of women and their constant battle for equality is equivalent to the sword of Damocles hanging above society.
A wrong word could set off a cascade of angry comments and indignance. Yet, these issues (where women are paid less, have to struggle to break the glass ceiling, are still expected to juggle multiple, ancestral roles) emotionally cost a lot.
As Emma Gray, executive women’s editor at the Huffington Post said: “By not speaking up – about our individual experiences and about the general experiences of women struggling with mental health issues – we do everyone a disservice.”
It is time we look past any potential labels and start investing in us.
Anxiety is a byzantine tangle of misconceptions – common yet hidden, feared and looked down upon. It does not have to be so. There is a high chance that the person sitting in the same room as you has struggled or is struggling with anxiety.
Is there a higher probability that it is a woman? Maybe. However, this, in no way implies that less men will be prone to anxiety.
The numbers and statistics are just that – numbers and statistics that constantly fluctuate. Moreover, these treatments have to be individualized for maximum efficiency.
Therefore, whoever you might be, take steps and know that resources are available if you need them and actively seek. Anxiety doesn’t have to be the dizziness of freedom.