Today’s women face a variety of life and family stressors. These pressures can lead to mental health concerns that can range anywhere from simple “burn out” to mood disorders and beyond. In fact, it may surprise you to know that women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
Obviously, researchers want to know the reason for this alarming statistic. Is there a biological component at play in a women’s body that isn’t as prevalent in a male? Do females learn to worry more because they pattern themselves after a mother who worries? Or, is it simply because women are more likely than men to admit they have symptoms and seek help?
The official view of the mental health profession is that the sexes are similar in the numbers of each gender who experience psychiatric disorders. However, according to the authors of The Stressed Sex, it actually turns out that “in any given year, total rates of psychological disorder are 20-40% higher in women than men.”
Indeed, studies are beginning to show that a female’s physiology can contribute to their higher rate of physiological disorders. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America notes that women’s fight-or-flight responses are more sensitive than a man’s and the response stays activated longer in a woman. Additionally, the female brain is more sensitive to stress hormones and does not process serotonin, the neurotransmitter believed to influence psychological functions, as fast as the male brain.
Women also have a variety of external stressors that can lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety:
- If you have children, there is a lot of pressure to be a “perfect mom.” This burden often leads to overscheduling activities and taking on more tasks, which takes away from relaxation and “decompression” time.
- Caffeine comes in many forms today – think about sodas, coffee and tea, caffeinated beverages, and water enhancers, just to name a few. Caffeine affects brain chemistry by raising dopamine levels. High dopamine levels are what make you feel jittery after drinking a caffeinated beverage – if the level is high enough, it can bring on panic attacks.
- Food allergies and food sensitivities can set off symptoms of anxiety in some people. This is because nutrition affects serotonin levels which, in turn, affects your mood. The gastrointestional tract is a major source of serotonin production.
- Certain medications, including anxiety medication, can worsen the symptoms of anxiety. If at all possible, they should be used on a more temporary basis.
- Wide use of sunscreens are great, but they’ve contributed to vitamin D deficiencies. A decrease in vitamin D has be shown to be related to depression and mood disorders.
In addition to these external stressors, physical reasons for depression and anxiety in women can include:
- Hormonal issues that can influence mood: an imbalance in your hypothalamus, in your pituitary gland, or in your adrenal glands, can cause panic attacks and chronic anxiety.
- Perimenopause – anxiety is often the first sign of perimenopause. The fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone levels impacts both mood and energy levels.
- Hormonal balance can be affected by a lack of physical exercise, resulting in an increase in depression and anxiety.
- Lack of sleep – women often don’t get as much sleep as they need or don’t sleep well, but sleep is imperative for brain health.
Ways to Help Reduce Depression and Anxiety
- Make the time to do something you enjoy. Reading even just one chapter in a book or one article in a magazine can help you decrease stress. Work in the garden or take up a craft. It can be hard to find the time, but it is essential to find balance in your life.
- Meditation or mindfulness training can help you learn how to better cope with stress.
- Exercise not only allows you to release, it also helps regulate hormone levels.
- Try relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or breathing exercises.
- Start a gratitude journal and record five things you are grateful for every day. This helps you focus on the good things that surround you, which helps you feel more positive.
- Turn off the television so you stop focusing on the bad news of the day!
- Seek guidance from a mental help professional if you find these techniques are not helping you reduce your depression and anxiety.
Need More Information?
In Getting to Know Anxiety Drs. Rosen and Gross offer readers an overview of today’s challenging mental health issues and the most current treatment methods available, as well as practical strategies for mental and emotional self-care.
If you are a woman who struggles with depression and anxiety, we can help. For more information, contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.