IMAGE SOURCE: PEXELS (Liza Summer)
Worry is a normal part of life that affects anyone regardless of age, gender, or race. However, excessive worrying is reported to be more prevalent and high among women. If not addressed or treated, it develops into an anxiety disorder.
WHAT IS WORRY?
It is important to understand what characterizes worry, the nature of its extent, and its causes. It is defined by Merriam-Webster and Lexico as “mental distress or agitation resulting from concern usually for something impending or anticipated” or “the state of being anxious and troubled over actual or potential problems”.
Worry and anxiety are used interchangeably but they differ in psychological states. Worry is a basic human tendency to problems. It is a normal response of emotion that is specific and short-term to any unpleasant situation. However, when worry becomes a cycle of repetitive and excessive thinking patterns, it develops into an anxiety disorder.
Clinically, excessive worrying is a primary symptom of one of the anxiety disorders called General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It is a real, serious, and habitual kind of worry that mostly affects the overall well-being and can cause extreme harm if it spins out of control.
Researchers estimated that 264 million people experience anxiety worldwide, with a surge of cases during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting women more than men.
If avoided and left untreated, it is reported to negatively affect the quality of daily life such as work performance and social engagement.
WHAT CAUSES WORRY IN WOMEN?
According to findings, worries in women can be related to factors such as biological, hormonal, family history, childhood trauma, and stressful social-related events.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) enumerates the general risk factors for all types of anxiety, which includes:
- Temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition in childhood
- Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events in early childhood or adulthood
- A history of anxiety or other mental illnesses in biological relatives
- Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias, or caffeine or other substances/medications, can produce or aggravate anxiety symptoms; a physical health examination is helpful in the evaluation of a possible anxiety disorder.
Another research on anxiety disorders among women found that “anxiety disorders among women often precipitate or worsen at times of hormonal fluctuation, including puberty, the premenstruum, pregnancy or postpartum, and the menopausal transition”.
The study also addressed and presented the pivotal timepoints and signs of anxiety in the female lifespan or stages in a figure. It shows that any childhood stress or trauma significantly develops psychological concerns later in life. The hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle also contribute to mood and anxiety symptoms.
Stressful and negative social interaction such as criticizing, shaming, isolating, and gossiping also contribute significantly to the well-being of an individual, and that its effect is greater in magnitude than positive social support.
Negative social interactions serve as “direct sources of interpersonal stress, potentially leading to depression, anxiety, physical symptoms, and reductions in perceived quality of life,” according to a study on Personality, Negative Interactions, and Mental Health.
WHAT MAKES WORRY EXCESSIVE OR UNHEALTHY?
Worry is characterized as excessive that may develop into anxiety disorders when it is persistent, consistent, and uncontrollable, disrupting ordinary and daily life activities.
Excessive worry impairs daily performance.
It shows academic failures among students and is reported to cause anxious employees to miss significant working days, meetings, or deadlines.
It dominates thought life, leading one to invariably expect danger or something worse to happen at work, school, or home. There is difficulty concentrating or performing on any given or expected tasks. It is a struggle to be present-minded, to focus, start, and finish the tasks at hand.
To be productive seems like a strenuous thing to do for someone experiencing extreme anxiety.
Excessive worry interrupts sleep quality.
It causes insomnia or irregular sleep patterns that drain physical and emotional strength. It persists even in sleep through a random dark and ominous disturbing dreams or nightmares that haunt the mind.
According to Sleep Foundation, women are 40% more likely to have sleep problems and nearly twice as likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than men.
In addition, Jim Horne, Director of the Sleep Research Center, remarks, “For women, poor sleep is strongly associated with high levels of psychological distress and greater feelings of hostility, depression, and anger.”
Excessive worry affects physical health.
According to medical studies, it causes migraine, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal problems. Pain is experienced all over the body with a sense of feeling tired, irritated, and restless.
Hyperventilation, increased heart rate, sweating, and/or trembling are also experienced.
WHAT SIMPLE PRACTICES CAN BE DONE WHEN EXTREME WORRY ATTACKS?
Every day is a fresh start. A strong commitment to a lifestyle change can help cultivate and improve the habit of healthy thinking and overcoming consistent worries.
Here are some of the simple remedies that one can start practicing in the face of overwhelming anxiety.
1. Creative Journaling.
Therapeutic writing helps identify excessive thoughts and feelings. While others find it difficult to convey emotions in words, some do it creatively by drawing or painting on blank pages. Others write in a form of prayer or poem, addressing God, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT)
A study on adults undergoing a biopsy confirms that writing for 20 minutes about feelings on distressing events brings faster healing. “Writing down your thoughts once a day can help you gain control of your emotions,” according to Sanford Health.
Creative journaling fosters positive self-talk and is a highly recommended tool by most therapists as it also helps track progress.
Action: Set aside time every day. Make it a habit to express your emotions through creative journaling. Start something with, “Today, I am worried about…” On another page, write another set of positive emotions, “Today, I am thankful about…”
2. Meditative Stretching.
Physical exercise is proven to release the happy hormone called endorphins which helps eliminate body toxins, reduces the perception of pain, and emotional stress. This includes breathing and stretching exercises that are known to calm the mind and anxiety.
According to Karena Wu, a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy, the muscle tissues can hold emotional stress. With this, it is recommended by fitness experts to engage in daily stretching exercises as it helps the muscles release tension and improve mental health.
Meditative stretching such as yoga which focuses on breathing and mindfulness is reported to help moderate stress response, reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and ease anxiety.
Action: It would be good to follow stretching after journaling as it helps further let go of toxins. After writing down your thoughts, stretch those tight muscles. Here’s a sample stretching exercise to follow:
3. Reflective listening.
Several studies have shown that listening to good music has mental health benefits. It is proven to reduce stress and anxiety in challenging situations. “Music exerts a powerful influence on human beings. It can boost memory, build task endurance, lighten your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, stave off fatigue, improve your response to pain, and help you work out more effectively,” according to Healthline.
The sound waves, rhythms, and lyrics of a song provide an identity or a voice that matches someone’s current mood or experience, stimulating relaxation and positive mood change.
Action: Before you start a task or go to bed, take time to listen to music that calms the mind. Engage in worshipful singing. Here are some therapeutic music albums to listen to:
If you are experiencing persistent excessive worries or the debilitating effects of anxiety, seeking help is the first step towards healing. Talk to a professional Therapist or certified Counselor to clinically address what you feel at the root level. Moreover, engage in a safe place of community that encourages healthy social interactions for growth and inner-healing.
Keep in mind that every day is a fresh start. The key is to act on it.