Anxiety has morphed over the years from a normal emotional experience into something clinical for which we are sold medication and other various treatments/interventions. Don’t get me wrong – there is such a thing as clinically diagnosable anxiety. There are lots of people who meet criteria for this diagnosis, and benefit greatly from medication. However, more and more young adults are being diagnosed and treated for anxiety. Of these millions receiving this diagnosis, women are twice as likely than men to be diagnosed with anxiety. It begs the question, is clinical anxiety really meant for the large majority of people who receive the diagnosis? Are we diagnosing, treating, and medicalizing an acceptable human emotion instead of trying to understand why so many millions of people are suffering from heightened cases of this emotion? There are many theories and explanations to try and answer these questions. I seek to propose another answer to these questions in this article, as these questions relate to women.
Women are not socialized or taught how to tap into their needs. Instead, most women are taught directly and indirectly to value intuiting and predicting the needs of others. By doing this, most women believe they will be able to avoid conflict or misunderstandings and make others feel better about themselves. This is all done with the underlying goal of having others like and accept them, so that they can then like and accept themselves. Stop and think about this for a moment – if other people are in charge of your life satisfaction and confidence, wouldn’t that make you anxious too?
Another possible answer to the question “why are women twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than the rest of the population?” is: hormonal birth control. This might be a topic for another post but I would be remiss not to bring it up as we ponder the connection between women and the diagnosis of clinical anxiety. Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. But here I go…. When we are young teenager girls, many millions of us start taking birth control for a host of reasons. We start this medication and don't think twice about it. And YET, it affects our weight, is linked to depression and anxiety, and literally changes our mood and body function. And what happens when we notice this and talk about it to our doctor - we are told it's in our heads… This might be changing now with more female doctors writing on the topic - but for so many, they are still met with doctors (male and female) who make them think that they are the problem and not the medication. I was once told by my doctor when I reported weight gain and low libido while on hormonal BC, ‘that there are no significant studies to prove this’ and that I need to ‘watch what I eat.’ I am not like most, in that if something does not sit right with me, I do not accept it. So this doctor got one hell of a google review, and this patient threw her BC pills in the trash. I bring all this up to draw some attention to the nuanced and often unnoticed experiences that we women have to deal with, that we often take personally INSTEAD of identifying them as inappropriate. We somehow find a way to blame ourselves for those interactions rather than seeing them as inappropriate and setting those boundaries. Oh, and we keep taking the medication and we keep being anxious.
For most of us (not all) our anxiety is really our discomfort in relation to our environment and how we respond to our environment. Our jobs, our chosen relationships, and family relationships, our living environments, society at large, etc. Things happen, we internalize, and blame ourselves, and then we continue feeling dissatisfied, unappreciated, overlooked etc.
You become uncomfortable when you can not rely on yourself to make sense of what you are going through, or when you sense that others are judging you or dissatisfied with you. When we do not have the skills to make sense of this, validate it, and make decisions regarding it, so we naturally become anxious – uncomfortable. We do not trust ourselves to know what is best for us and we get stuck. We don’t know what is best for us because we, like our mothers and their mothers, were raised to believe that thinking about the well being of oneself before the wellbeing of others is selfish. Selfish. That word – burned and etched into all of our memories as the ONE thing you have to AVOID being at all costs. The branded S in our brains, reminding us daily of what not to do.
When I don’t put my needs first, when I don’t matter, I put my wellbeing in the mercy of others. I have to trust that they will somehow know what is best for me and treat me that way. So when they don’t treat me that way, I internalize it as though I deserve it – because if I mattered they would show/tell me I mattered.
When I don’t matter to myself, independent of other,, I don’t have boundaries. And that is exactly what causes me to feel anxious. When I don’t have boundaries, I don’t know what I want and need, others matter more than I do, so I avoid conflict and accommodate and tolerate inappropriate behavior from others without saying anything or standing up for myself. When I don't have boundaries I don’t have standards, I people please and work hard to get people to like me even if they are not good people. See what happens? Now can you see why we are diagnosing the symptom of anxiety rather than the root of the problem!?
Women, we need to learn how to matter to ourselves. Independent of anything else or anyone else. When I matter, I see my worth, I can then recognize when others are taking advantage of that or treating me poorly. I set higher standards for myself and I get better at surrounding myself with those who are worth it rather than settling for those who are not. You are not responsible for them not being good enough for you. You don’t have to judge them or disrespect them or yourself. You merely have to have enough self respect to recognize that not everyone who enters your life is going to be worth sticking around for. Accepting that when people leave your life it's NOT because you are not worth it – BUT BECAUSE YOU ARE WORTH IT.
There is nothing judgmental about this – but there is something selfish about this. Selfish. The best fucking thing you will ever be. The best gift and only gift you will ever give yourself of the highest value. And you don’t have to spend a cent.