Why are modern women so anxious?

I had an interesting discussion with my supervisor at work last year around Christmas time.  I asked her if she had gotten all her shopping done and she said yes, she had, because she does it all online due to the fact that malls and large stores cause her to have terrible panic attacks.  She wasn’t joking, either, or using hyperbole; apparently it was bad enough to cause her to skip holiday shopping altogether and do all of it online.

I was interested in what she had to say because I too sometimes have really bad anxiety symptoms in large stores.  It started when I was in my mid-thirties, and while I wouldn’t call them full blown panic attacks, the symptoms can be intense enough to be very physically uncomfortable.  The sensation is one of panic, like I need to drop everything and run, along with a racing heart and that clenchy feeling in my stomach.  Mine are not nearly as bad as my supervisor’s, and I can get through whatever shopping needs to be done by praying for God to flood me with peace and by repeating phrases to myself like It is okay.  I am okay.  My family is fine.  I can get my groceries and then I can leave.  God is with me.  Also paying close attention to my breathing, keeping it even and deep, helps.

So a couple of things I’ve noticed is that it isn’t really the crowds that are the problem; I can go to church without panicking, for example, although sometimes large concerts and sporting events make me tense until we are in our seats.  Another aspect is that it seems to be exacerbated during the school year when I’m working and abates somewhat (but not completely) when I’m home in the summer.

About five years ago, I was at a birthday party for the daughter of a friend from church, and all the moms got to talking as moms will about how stressed out they are.  One woman who had recently completed her PhD and had her third child was talking about the constant sensation of anxiety she lives with and how she’s tired of being told to go to therapy.  “The last thing I need is another thing on the calendar,” she’d said.  “I just want them to give me drugs.”  Most of the other working mothers there nodded in agreement.

I sort of sympathized with what they meant although I don’t have any desire to use psychiatric medications.  But “talking it out” with a therapist, which is what doctors always seem to want you to do if you talk to them about anxiety, just wouldn’t be helpful because there really is no it to talk out.  There’s no big trauma, there’s just regular old day-to-day life.  Therapy just isn’t the answer for that.

Women are 60% more likely than men to suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives.  What’s causing all this anxiety among women starting around their mid-thirties?  I read an interesting interview with a researcher from Harvard Medical School about the hypothesized role hormones play in anxiety.  His initial studies apparently indicated that lower levels of estrogen, such as women experience later in life or directly after giving birth, were correlated with much higher levels of anxiety.  Interestingly, his team also found that women on birth control pills show the same symptoms.  Although men have lower levels of estrogen than women, the presence of testosterone was hypothesized to be playing a protective role for them.

Maybe it does come down to hormones, but I’m not completely convinced.  I think some of it is a normal response mechanism built in to us that is trying to tell us something.  After all, I don’t have panic attacks when I’m pulling weeds in the garden.  I don’t have them when I’m cooking dinner.  And I don’t have them when I’m curled up on the couch next to my husband.  I have them when I’m stressed at work and when I’m trying to navigate busy, crowded, bright, noisy places like stores, just like my supervisor.  So I wonder if some of this is that we are expecting our bodies and brains to do something that they simply weren’t designed to do.

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32 thoughts on “Why are modern women so anxious?

  1. Pingback: Why modern women are so anxious | Christianity and the manosphere

  2. I remember having a lot of anxiety postpartum with my first, and none this time around with our second. It’s so strange all the hormone involvement, the stress women put themselves under to be and do everything… I had my first at a time when we had little money, I was still finishing up my college degree (one semester left), and we were both working (me only part time). But obviously, it was too much on my plate. Contrast that situation with my second boy’s birth, me being a peace staying at home looking after our kids, not working except for doing the work at home/errands and teaching our son this past two years… the pregnancy was stressfree and beautiful! No anxiety at all. And the birth actually felt like going to a resort or hotel LOL.

    Huge difference!

    I think a lot of it might be – maybe? – that women just put too much on themselves, to do too much or to be a super woman that has it all. When I was working, and it was in a difficult field even though the work itself really wasn’t too difficult, it was just basic research assistant stuff in working with ebola and marburg viruses (scary viruses, but easy techniques), and the work didn’t stress me… but having to leave my son in daycare REALLY stressed me, also having to work for a boss who compared me to a single divorced woman who worked much longer hours (and to him, was more dedicated). Of course she was more dedicated, work & research was ALL she had. I still loved her though, beautiful Russian girl that taught me a lot about her unique research.

    Having to wake my baby up early, get him ready when so little, then rush through traffic, drop him off and have my heart tearing inside leaving him (sometimes I actually cried!!!), and all this before even starting the actual “work day.” Then having to rush to pick him up, deal with whatever emotions he had about his day, sometimes good sometimes bad 😦 , then rush back through traffic to get home, then cook, clean, and barely have any real time to relax and rest. It was insane!

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    • I remember having a lot of anxiety postpartum with my first, and none this time around with our second.

      It was the same for me. I had about two weeks of feeling really anxious after the birth of our first child. I was worried about that happening again, but it didn’t.

      Having to wake my baby up early, get him ready when so little, then rush through traffic, drop him off and have my heart tearing inside leaving him (sometimes I actually cried!!!), and all this before even starting the actual “work day.” Then having to rush to pick him up, deal with whatever emotions he had about his day, sometimes good sometimes bad 😦 , then rush back through traffic to get home, then cook, clean, and barely have any real time to relax and rest. It was insane!

      It is really tough when you have littles. I went back to work part-time three months after the birth of our first child. Ah, those 5:00 a.m. mornings leaning against the kitchen counter hooked to a breast bump trying to get my milk to let down while my tears pitter-patted on the top of the pump. Good times, good times. I waited 16 months to go back to work the next time around.

      It isn’t nearly so bad once everyone is school aged, but I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy either. My husband is also at work at that time of day, so the mornings are 100% on me even now and when I’ve got to get kids to before-school sports or band rehearsals and others to school at the normal time and myself to work…I arrive ready to start my day already kind of worn out. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Although I will add that now my MIL lives here in the same town and is right around the block from the schools. She’s going to help out with some of the morning craziness now, thankfully. It should be a better year. Last year I was really worn out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aw 😦 sad about the tears! It is really hard without your husband helping right!? It always makes me appreciate him and all he does even more. Single mothers have it incredibly hard!

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  3. Actually that response by Deep Strength is surprisingly good. I have very little anxiety these days, but when I do it is always about walls, boundaries, limitations, needing protection and order in the midst of chaos. It is a fear based response and has a lot to do with a desire for protection and order that isn’t always there in the modern world.

    I’ve written quite a bit about one of the best things about husbands, they can bring order to the chaos, they can bring calm to the insanity. I think we’ve joked about the comfort that is sometimes quickly provided by a husband simply saying, “stop it, you’re being crazy.”

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  4. Stores is an easy one. People feel anxious in them because they’re designed to be hyper-stimulated environments. Everything from the way the path through the store is laid out to the various smells you’re assaulted with have been specially chosen by somebody to break down your resistance to spending money.

    There are even thermal/movement cameras that department stores and supermarkets use to plot the way people move through their stores, and if there are areas where people aren’t moving fast enough, music or a blast of cold air is added in to move you along. Instead of making price comparisons at your leisure, you pick the most colourful, most expensive product that presents itself to you, and get out of there.

    On top of that, big stores and malls have no natural light and they’re over air conditioned, so the biological signalling is all wrong. It could be one of the reasons that toddlers and small children suddenly become bratty in store, right when you least need it.

    They’re like aircraft cabins – the perfect human-scrambling environments.

    Liked by 2 people

    • the perfect human-scrambling environments.

      This makes perfect sense, and it isn’t surprising that women would feel the effect more strongly if it is indeed true that lowered levels of estrogen or using BCP causes a reduced ability to suppress fear and anxiety.

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  5. Hmmm…feeling anxious in very public places after turning thirty? Just guessing but, it might be something primal. There are kids at home depending on you. If I were a caveman and there were no unattached cavewomen around, I ‘s have to go hunting and steal one. Is this anxiety present in the comany of your husbands?
    My prescription fo anxiety. Load into mobile device and watch as needed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Is this anxiety present in the comany of your husbands?

      I can only respond for myself, but in my case, my anxiety level is significantly decreased when my husband is there. It’s always been like that. I used to (and still sort of do) have “white coat” syndrome – I get really anxious about doctor’s appointments. And so my husband started going to my doctor’s appointments with me at my request, way back in my mid-twenties already. I didn’t realize my doctor thought this was odd until one appointment when he asked my husband to step out of the room and then asked me point blank if I was being abused. I was SO shocked! I had to explain that my husband was there because I was so anxious, not because he was trying to control me or hide something!

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    • I have to admitt that I have heard that from other women. Just sitting on the sofa next to her sweetie had a remarkable calming effect on a youtuber.
      Maybe a lot of this stems from women trying to live without men?

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  6. Anxiety is going to come from either Internal or External stimulus that isn’t processed well (for anxiety that isn’t in response to something that should produce it).

    So in the instance of the Stores, what is your shopping pattern like? Do you have a partial list and peruse options or do you take a Tactical Warfare approach with hitting all of your targets with as much efficiency as possible? If it’s the former, that could explain why you would have problems occasionally. Most days you can approach it fine, but there are days your body can’t process all of the external stimuli well. For whatever reason that day is bad. (A bad night of sleep could easily do it, especially if you’re using caffeine to get through the day and it is at the end of your day.)

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    • Haha, I always plan to do Tactical Warfare but I end up in confused perusal mode sometimes. And I think I do feel like I’m having trouble processing the stimuli on those days. In terms of sleep…like most other middle-aged American women, I sleep badly. Coffee is my lifeblood. I know caffeine is about the worst thing to use if you have a lot of anxiety, too, but darn I love my morning cup (or five).

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  7. Deep Strength’s post is interesting and I want to respond to it here, but I have to get up early for work tomorrow, so I’m heading off to bed. I’ll try to write a response to him here tomorrow evening if I can.

    Also, I’ve very rarely commented on any manosphere blogs over the past year, and I decided yesterday just to go full Cane Caldo (who has banned all female commenters) by pre-emptively banning myself from commenting on any manosphere blog ever again. However, I still read several of the Christian manosphere sites, so if I have anything to say about what I read there, it will be said here on my own blog as I have time.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I did see you over at Dalrock’s the other day. I don’t comment there because Cane Caldo objected to mild flirtation. It might be tough to do co-ed blogs in the future because there are a lot of hurt men out there. There was something of a flare up along those lines tonight at my usual haunt.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t know you also had a run-in with him Fuzzie…. I noticed that a lot of men that used to comment on Dalrock’s blog, after getting into it with him, like Earl, Buena Vista, Ballista, and quite a few others, don’t comment there anymore. That kind of behavior ruins community if it goes unchecked. I wonder how many people stay away because of it?

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    • While my thoughts aren’t fully formed on this issue, that you would feel uncomfortable commenting where, in the past you were, means that things are getting polarized. This may be good, indicating things are coming to a boil.
      It would be good for this to be aired in the mainstream medis but, not on Megyn Kelly’s show. 🙂

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    • Over at my usual haunt, Ton and someone else tore into a female pillar or the blog. I think that it’s very hard to keep a blog co-ed dealing with intersexual issues. There are too many women trying to be “T” and too many men harmed beyond repair. There is one benefit, when it works it works great.
      Commenter Liz posted this and I thought you would appreciate.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dragonfly,
      There was some mild flirtation between myself and female commenter whose user gave away her age, compatible. Cane said something dismissive and I asked him to apologize. He didn’r and other commenters supported him. I departed, deferring to his status.
      I wouldn’t surprise me that blogs churn through a lot of commenters because of spats.

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  8. I’m with bodycrimes–shopping is sometimes just a barrage of stimuli. If you think it’s bad in the U.S., try Asian malls–sometimes it seems like enough to trigger a seizure.. Couple that with weaker family support structures where one family member is somewhat likely to see through the nonsense, and you’ve got something of a perfect storm, I’d think.

    Other things that may be linked; work and even church are also places where psychological manipulation is prevalent–my theory about the matter is that men either shrug it off (“just another Dilbert situation”) or (especially in church) “show up” as an empty chair or pew, but it hits women a lot harder. Couple that with using HR or other tactics to induce men (and some women) to turn their BS detectors on “vibrate”, and it’s just nasty.

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  9. I think some of it can be attributed to health and nutrition issues. Women can tend to overeat carbs and sugar and can be pre-diabetic without knowing it. Most regular doctors don’t order comprehensive tests that would indicate people have this problem. When I changed my diet and stabilized my blood sugar, my anxiety levels and depression (which can be triggered by blood sugar spikes and the fatigue that naturally follows) decreased. When someone eats insulin spiking foods their serotonin levels naturally dip. Caffeine can also cause anxiety. I find “self-medicating” with sweets and caffeine can have the opposite effect of what is intended.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. As a generally quiet person in public, I assume most people think I have anxiety problems, but I actually do not. I’m just reserved. I do not have any anxiety but I cannot understand how someone would not want to talk to someone about an issue that is affecting their day-to-day life. I mean…not being able to go shopping or do anything seems like a hindrance that I would want to get rid of permanently and not just medicate it.

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  11. OK, I am finally getting around to posting my thoughts on DS’s post. He writes:

    Obviously, the simple patriarchal answer is that: Women do best under a structure of authority and boundaries.

    In general, anxiety is a fear response. Fear response tends to manifest when we feel like we aren’t protected. Women aren’t protected when they are removed from the authoritative covering of their fathers or husbands. Hence, why women were given from the father to the husband in marriage. You could say that fear and anxiety is the natural price of independence: You have to take care of and protect yourself. If you are a Bible believing Christian then the answer is simple. Women weren’t created to shoulder that burden alone.

    Modern women who opt into egalitarian marriages do not see their husbands as providers and protectors. Hence, it should be no surprise that they still live in fear and anxiety over many aspects of life.

    Now, much of these this fear and anxiety should be taken to God first before women take it to their fathers and husbands. God fills the the God-sized hole of need within all humans. However, if a woman is anxious about a particular situation this is where a father or a husband can help her set boundaries.

    For example, if working or say PTA involvement or church involvement is causing a wife anxiety, a husband can look out for his wife by telling her to cut back. This exempts her from the rock and a hard place:

    The uncomfortable situation of not wanting to cut back because others at work, PTA, or church may see her as slacking or not good enough for the position versus having the stress, workload, and responsibilities of the particular positions. Thus, the responsibility of the decision making and boundaries are placed upon her husband and not her. It is the quintessential responsibility offload a wife can use: “If you have a problem, you can take it up with my husband.”

    This is simply one of the ways that fathers and husbands add that protective layer of covering over their wives and those under their authority. Likewise, this is the same as with the Father and Christians. If we decide to go our own way and sin and thus step out from under God’s protective covering then we logically should have a holy fear and anxiety about things going wrong.

    Agreed. I definitely think too much independence creates anxiety in women. I can’t even imagine what my anxiety level would be like if I were on my own. As it is, my husband has said he feels he didn’t do a great job last year of reining in my tendency to way, way over-schedule both myself and our children. He’s already told me he’ll be putting the kibosh on that this year, and in fact has already told our eldest daughter she can’t participate in something she really wanted to do but which would have required a BIG time commitment from me in terms of driving. I have a REALLY tough time, like many women, saying no to our children when they want to be involved in some extra curricular, especially if it is related to a church function.

    I am also convinced that this is why Paul tells Titus and Timothy that women should be workers at home, and why Proverbs is about a woman working out of her home […]

    Simply put, taking jobs outside of the home like the ancient and modern workplaces will place women in the role of “independent worker with certain responsibilities” within a company. Women generally don’t like making important decisions with responsibility and hence it becomes a source of fear and anxiety in regard to failure.

    Yes and also no. Careerism is definitely a terrible mindset for women, but there was a reason why back in the late 1960s there were housewives taking Valium (remember the old Rolling Stones song about Mother’s Little Helper?). They didn’t have jobs but they sure were anxious. I tend to think it’s more about the modern tendency to fracture the family, first from the extended down to the nuclear family and now from the nuclear family down to just individuals or maybe a woman and her children. Being on one’s own is VERY anxiety-provoking for women. So it’s not as simple as saying that the cure is for all women to quit their jobs. I should add that my husband is not fully in agreement with me on this point and has warned me that I am sort of on probation in terms of my job – if I’m as stressed and bitchy as I was last winter again this year, he’ll insist I quit. I’d rather not quit, so I’m really trying to keep control of my attitude.

    I don’t doubt that secretaries under their boss don’t really have the same issue as say a doctor, physical therapist, OT, SLP, dentist, pharmacist, those in business, those in trades, or those in STEM careers or other professionals may have. There is more autonomy and responsibility with certain career paths than with others that can lead to fear and anxiety in women.

    I dunno, I like having a lot of autonomy at work. I’m an SLP and have worked both outpatient med rehab and in the schools. The kind of work I do is interesting and reasonably enjoyable to me; it’s more the time crunch that comes from trying to juggle too many balls. And that is where being in a complementary as opposed to egalitarian marriage is so helpful; it isn’t my job to support our family, so if it gets to be too much, I’ll resign from my job. If I can’t figure out to do that on my own, my husband will figure it out for me and let me know that that’s what I’ll be doing.

    But right now I am hoping to keep working to use the money I earn specifically for improving our homesteading capabilities. I hope to use my income to purchase more land and build us a pole barn so we can have some small livestock.

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  12. Strangers are threats. The people at your church are not strangers (even if they are;) they are fellow members of a trusted group. But big mobs of people at the mall or just random people at the store are total strangers whom your subconscious is constantly tracking and analyzing to make sure they aren’t about to murder you. Women who have just given birth are extra hyped up because they have to be even more extra vigilant than ever, both to protect their infant from predators/other humans and to make sure they don’t accidentally drop the baby or something horrible like that.

    In other words, you’re supposed to feel like that.

    None of this affects men as much because they are designed to get into fights with other men.

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  13. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/09/06) | The Reactivity Place

  14. Pingback: The Full Cane Caldo | Things that We have Heard and Known

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