Is anxiety burning women out?

8 Jun
womaneer rocking chair

Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere (pic: istockphoto.com/pterwort)

There’s a saying that worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but it gets you nowhere. That’s certainly the case for many women who suffer anxiety, and for whom it gets to the stage where it affects their performance at work.

Anxious female brains work harder than male ones, says research from Michigan State University. In tests, worried women performed the same as men on simple parts of the task – but performed worse on the more difficult parts, suggesting that “worrying got in the way of completing the task”.

Jason Moser, lead investigator on the project, said: “Anxious girls’ brains have to work harder to perform tasks because they have distracting thoughts and worries. As a result, their brains are being kind of burned out by thinking so much.”

The reasons for female anxiety could be down to levels of the hormone oestrogen – which the researchers are investigating further – or because women are culturally more used to expressing anxiety than men. Moser said the findings “may ultimately help mental health professionals determine which girls may be prone to anxiety problems such as obsessive compulsive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder”.

For helping to alleviate anxiety, Moser recommends that women turn to therapy, journalling (“writing worries down rather than letting them stick in your head” and doing ‘brain games’ designed to improve memory and concentration.

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