Why Women Have More Anxiety Than Men

When it comes to some mental health conditions, particularly anxiety, it matters whether you’re male or female.

Women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men, says a 2016 University of Cambridge review of studies.

Why women?

Biology can explain only some of the differences.

Hormonal changes across a woman’s life – during puberty, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause - have been linked to anxiety. Women also tend to be more prone to stress and to have different coping mechanisms than men. They are more likely to spend more time thinking about life stressors, which can increase anxiety, while men tend to engage more in active, problem-focused coping.

But there are certain life events that can particularly affect women. Beyond Blue and Jean Hailes have identified a number of factors that can impact women’s mental health, including:

  • Caring for others. Women do most of the caregiving, whether for a partner, elderly parents, and/or children. While it can be a very positive experience for many, caring can affect your physical and mental health, financial security and independence, particularly if caring for people who are ill, frail or with a disability.
  • Infertility and miscarriage. The grief and loss of infertility and miscarriage can be devastating for women and is often experienced privately, which can further impact mental health.
  • Pregnancy, having a baby and becoming a mother. For some women, adjusting to the major life change and challenges of early motherhood leaves them more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
  • Menopause. Hormone changes in the years leading to menopause can contribute to depression and anxiety. The physical changes of menopause – hot flushes, night sweats, interrupted sleep and weight gain – can also impact mental health.
  • Relationships. Conflict at home, particularly physical and mental abuse, can cause great fear and anxiety. Women who are separated, divorced or widowed are more likely to experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. As well as feelings of loss and grief, the end of a relationship can affect financial security, social connections, housing and relationships with children.
  • Money worries. Stress over money is common and can affect your mental wellbeing. According to a recent BlackRock study focusing on the relationship between wealth and wellbeing, money is a top worry amongst the 27,000 people they asked worldwide. In many of these cases, women indicated that finances caused higher levels of stress than men did.

The Wordless Feeling of Loss

“Ambiguous loss”. It’s a vague but bone-deep sense of grief. It’s hard to define, and many people find it hard to justify when they ‘should be grateful’.

Yet you’ve probably felt it this past year with COVID, as you grieve the loss of your normal life and the loss of control.

The term ambiguous loss was coined by Dr Pauline Boss in the 1970s to cover the idea of ongoing losses that can’t be resolved, combined with an inability to return to “normal”. It was used to explain feelings around immigration, addiction, divorce and aging parents.

You can see why it applies so clearly to our experience of the COVID world. There is no foreseeable end, and it feels untenable and unsustainable.

Dr Sarah Woods, Assistant Professor and Director of Behavioural Health at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, calls it “feelings of stress, sorrow, and frustration we feel at the loss of our normal lives.

“The first thing to know is that feeling distressed due to ambiguity is normal,” says Dr Wood. “The complicated grief we’re experiencing due to the shifting sands of our current lives, and accumulation of impalpable losses, is valid.”

If you’re feeling stressed, it’s not your fault

We’re seeing our old world-order destabilise. Our work, education and our economy – it’s all rocky and uncertain right now.

Robert Neimeyer, PhD, director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition and professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Memphis, says, “The losses include our sense of predictability, control, justice, and the belief that we can protect our children or elderly loved ones,”

Dr Neimeyer points out that the level of grief we feel is usually connected to our level of attachment to the thing we’ve lost.

“We’re capable of losing places, projects, possessions, professions and protections, all of which we may be powerfully attached to,” he says. “This pandemic forces us to confront the frailty of such attachments, whether it’s to our local bookstore or the routines that sustain us through our days. We’re talking about grieving a living loss – one that keeps going and going.


So what can we do about it?

You don’t have to suffer alone.

Here are ways to help manage this ambiguous grief and loss.

  1. “Name and claim it,” says Dr Neimeyer. It can help to give this “wordless suffering” a name, and know that it’s a feeling shared by so many.
  2. Understand it. It can help to understand that this kind of grief fluctuates. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed one day, and yet happy and grateful the next.
  3. Keep social. Do what you can to maintain your social supports. Even if you can’t see someone and hug them, it can help to stay connected online and by phone. Talk to your friends and family about ambiguous loss – you might be surprised by how they open up about their own experience.
  4. Stop doom-scrolling. When the news keeps updating with yet more suffering, it’s tempting to keep refreshing your news feed. It’s almost like we’re seeking control. Try to give yourself breaks from the news and limit yourself to a couple of checks a day for urgent updates.
  5. Remember your strengths. Look back on those times when you made it through tough situations, and remind yourself how resilient you are.

How to Apologise and Mean It?

You probably have memories of being forced to apologise when you were a child. You’d say you were sorry, but you wouldn’t really mean it

And just saying the words didn’t work, and it didn’t heal anything.

A real apology needs to come from an intention of restoring trust and healing wounds. And it’s hard.

We often avoid apologising, partly because we’re worried about unleashing even more anger, and partly because it feels uncomfortable.

As Reachout.com points out, “Apologising is hard because we don’t want to feel bad about ourselves. We try to have a positive image of ourselves, and our need to protect that can make sincerely apologising quite hard.”

However, a sincere apology can not only mend cracks in a relationship, but make it stronger. Here’s a nine step system you can follow:

  1. Ask for permission to apologise

Etiquette expert and founder of The Etiquette School of America, Maralee McKee, says your apology affects the other person, so they need to consent. You can’t just go to someone, open up raw wounds and then just leave. They might need some time before you’re ready to listen.

2. Make it clear what you’re apologising for

Be specific. It shows the other person you understand exactly what you did wrong.

3. Admit you were wrong.

Take responsibility and be careful not to make excuses.

4. Acknowledge their feelings

This is the make-or-break moment. Say you’re sorry for hurting them. Note: you’re not sorry “if it hurt you”, or “if you were offended”. That implies it’s their fault for having feelings.

Reachout.com suggests something like, “I understand you must have felt really upset, angry and confused.”

5. Say sorry

Actually say you’re sorry. “Don’t tack a ‘but…’ onto the end of that sentence,” warns Reachout.com

6. Offer a solution

Tell them how you’ll make things right. If you don’t know how, ask them what they think will help.

7. Tell them it won’t happen again

This is important. As Maralee McKee says, “Otherwise, what you’ve offered isn’t an apology – it’s an excuse.”

8. Ask for forgiveness

Overtly ask for their forgiveness. Keep in mind they might not be ready yet.

9. Move forward with an intention of change

You can’t do it again, and once they’ve forgiven you, they can’t keep holding a grudge.

What Can and Can’t Reduce Inflammation

You can’t survive without me, yet I lie behind many of today’s chronic diseases.

Inflammation has become a favourite topic of wellness bloggers and influencers. It’s a scary sounding condition that’s blamed for many common illnesses, often with justification but frequently without any strong evidence.


What is inflammation?

Inflammation is usually a good thing. Without it, wounds and infections would never heal, spelling bad news for your survival.

An inflammatory response is the natural response of your immune system to any foreign invader or perceived threat, whether that’s bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, or an injury.

You’ll see acute inflammation in action if you cut or burn yourself. An influx of white blood cells and chemicals trigger redness and swelling – all part of your body’s response that begins the healing process. Inflammation is also in action out of sight, fighting off disease, including the rogue cells that cause cancer. After the initial reaction, inflammation calms down to allow your body to heal.


Can inflammation work against us?

Yes, it can. Inflammation becomes a problem when it can’t be turned off and your body continues to react to something it sees as a threat.

Persistent, invisible, low levels of inflammation (known as chronic inflammation) can damage your body. It’s linked to many long-term diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and some cancers. It plays a role in inflammatory bowel disease and is even believed to contribute to certain types of depression.

Inflammation is serious, but you can do something about it. It all starts with understanding what can cause it.


What causes chronic inflammation?

Viruses, autoimmune disease like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and pathogens the body can’t get rid of can all cause inflammation. So too can:

  • ageing
  • smoking
  • poor diet
  • stress
  • lack of sleep
  • being overweight, particularly carrying weight around your middle.


What you can do

Your diet and lifestyle can go a long way to calming down chronic inflammation. Getting active for as little as 20 minutes every day can reduce chronic inflammation. So too can quitting smoking, getting adequate sleep, losing weight and reducing stress.

One of the most powerful tools you have to combat inflammation is your choice of food. Pick the wrong ones and you can accelerate inflammation. But choose the right foods and you can reduce your risk of illness.

“A pretty poor typical Western diet high in highly processed convenience foods and added sugar and low in minimally processed plant foods has been implicated in inflammation,” says nutrition research scientist Dr Tim Crowe on his blog Thinking Nutrition.

“What is widely considered an anti-inflammatory diet” is one high in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, legumes, and wholegrains,” explains Dr Crowe. The Mediterranean style diet is a good example, especially if you include fish and olive oil, as it is rich in antioxidants and other inflammation-fighting nutrients.