Statistically speaking, women experience anxiety disorders at twice the rate of men. This fact is not limited to just one type of anxiety disorder, either: women outnumber men in being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, PTSD, and different kinds of specific phobias.
However, men absolutely also experience anxiety, and are often overlooked or not treated appropriately by the medical profession.
Depending on whether your partner is male or female may affect how they experience their anxiety and how they deal with it.
Women and anxiety
There are a number of theories about why women have higher rates of diagnosed anxiety:
- Hormonal fluctuations: Some researchers believe that a woman’s monthly cycle can affect anxiety levels.
- Sexual abuse and violence: Women are more likely than men to have experienced sexual abuse/violence as children and as adults, which can lead to residual anxiety.
- Cultural acceptance: In our society, many women “do it all”–work full time, take primary responsibility for childcare, run the house, etc., which makes it “okay” that they are anxious and stressed.
- More likely to seek help for anxiety: Women go to the doctor and/or seek counseling more frequently than men, and consequently, are diagnosed with having an anxiety disorder more often.
- More likely to also be diagnosed with another mental illness, such as depression: Again, since women are more likely to seek professional help, a comorbid condition often comes along with anxiety.
Men and anxiety
Here is what often happens with men who experience anxiety:
- Medical profession misdiagnosis: Panic attacks are often misinterpreted by medical professionals as symptoms of heart attacks or other physical ailments. (See this article in Men’s Health for a first-hand account.)
- Cultural bias: It’s generally accepted in this culture that men are not supposed to ask for help or admit there’s a problem, until it becomes obvious that something has to be done.
- Self-medication: Men are more likely to self-medicate their anxiety by using alcohol or street drugs to help themselves relax, instead of seeking professional help.
What works for either gender
No matter what the origins of the anxiety, or whether your partner is male or female, or even whether the anxiety has been formally diagnosed, certain lifestyle changes can help to reduce the anxiety your partner experiences. Here are some ideas about what you and your partner can do to reduce anxiety and its role in your relationship:
- Diet and exercise: A healthy diet and regular intense exercise can play an important role in reducing anxiety levels.
- Reduce technology use: Step away from the iPhones and Blackberries! Unplugging even for a few hours can reduce the feeling of “I’ve gotta take care of _____ now!”
- Reduce exposure to media: Less time hearing about the doom and gloom of the world is beneficial.
- Reduce obligations: If your partner is one of those people who is constantly overscheduled, have a conversation about what’s really a “must do” versus something that can be handled by someone else or taken care of later.
- Have regular “couple time”: Addressing issues in the relationship that may be causing anxiety is important, as is making time to just have fun and forget about “adult” responsibilities.
- Mindfulness practice: Learning how to meditate, or even just taking five minutes to watch your breathing, has been proven to reduce anxiety levels significantly. Audio clips online or taking a class on meditation and practicing together will have multiple benefits.