Anxiety is a normal response to stress. But when it becomes hard to control and affects your day-to-day life, it can be disabling. Anxiety disorders affect nearly one in five adults in the United States.1 Women are more than twice as likely as men to get an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.2 Anxiety disorders are often treated with counseling, medicine, or a combination of both. Some women also find that yoga or meditation helps with anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or fear about an event or situation. It is a normal reaction to stress. It helps you stay alert for a challenging situation at work, study harder for an exam, or remain focused on an important speech. In general, it helps you cope.
But anxiety can be disabling if it interferes with daily life, such as making you dread nonthreatening day-to-day activities like riding the bus or talking to a coworker. Anxiety can also be a sudden attack of terror when there is no threat.
Anxiety disorders happen when excessive anxiety interferes with your everyday activities such as going to work or school or spending time with friends or family. Anxiety disorders are serious mental illnesses. They are the most common mental disorders in the United States. Anxiety disorders are more than twice as common in women as in men.
The major types of anxiety disorder are:
Some other conditions that are not considered anxiety disorders but are similar include:
Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults every year. Anxiety disorders also affect children and teens. About 8% of teens ages 13 to 18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms starting around age 6.5
Women are more than twice as likely as men to get an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.2 Also, some types of anxiety disorders affect some women more than others:
Researchers think anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors, which may include:
Women with anxiety disorders experience a combination of anxious thoughts or beliefs, physical symptoms, and changes in behavior, including avoiding everyday activities they used to do. Each anxiety disorder has different symptoms. They all involve a fear and dread about things that may happen now or in the future.
Physical symptoms may include:
Physical symptoms of anxiety disorders often happen along with other mental or physical illnesses. This can cover up your anxiety symptoms or make them worse.2
Your doctor or nurse will ask you questions about your symptoms and your medical history. Your doctor may also do a physical exam or other tests to rule out other health problems that could be causing your symptoms.
Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when fear and dread of nonthreatening situations, events, places, or objects become excessive and are uncontrollable. Anxiety disorders are also diagnosed if the anxiety has lasted for at least six months and it interferes with social, work, family, or other aspects of daily life.2
Your doctor may refer you for a type of counseling for anxiety disorders called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). You can talk to a trained mental health professional about what caused your anxiety disorder and how to deal with the symptoms.2
For example, you can talk to a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor. CBT can help you change the thinking patterns around your fears. It may help you change the way you react to situations that may create anxiety. You may also learn ways to reduce feelings of anxiety and improve specific behaviors caused by chronic anxiety. These strategies may include relaxation therapy and problem solving.
Several types of medicine treat anxiety disorders. These include:
All medicines have risks. You should talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of all medicines. Learn more about medicines to treat anxiety disorders.
Sometimes, you may need to work with your doctor to try several different treatments or combinations of treatments before you find one that works for you.
If you are having trouble with side effects from medicines, talk to your doctor or nurse. Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to a doctor or nurse. Your doctor may adjust how much medicine you take and when you take it.
Sometimes symptoms of an anxiety disorder come back after you have finished treatment. This may happen during or after a stressful event. It may also happen without any warning.
Many people with anxiety disorders do get better with treatment. But, if your symptoms come back, your doctor will work with you to change or adjust your medicine or treatment plan.
You can also talk to your doctor about ways to identify and prevent anxiety from coming back. This may include writing down your feelings or meeting with your counselor if you think your anxiety is uncontrollable.
Maybe. Some women say that complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) therapies helped lower their anxiety.
CAM therapies that may help anxiety include:
If your treatment is counseling, it will not affect your pregnancy.
If you are on medicine to treat your anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor. Some medicines used to treat anxiety can affect your unborn baby.
It depends. Some medicines used to treat anxiety can pass through breastmilk. Certain antidepressants, such as some SSRIs, are safe to take during breastfeeding.
Do not stop taking your medicine too quickly. Talk to your doctor to find out what medicine is best for you and your baby. Learn more about medicines and breastfeeding in our Breastfeeding section. You can also enter your medicine into the LactMed® database to find out if your medicine passes through your breastmilk and any possible side effects for your nursing baby.
Anxiety disorders may affect other health problems that are common in women. These include:
Researchers are studying why women are more than twice as likely as men to develop anxiety disorders and depression. Changes in levels of the hormone estrogen throughout a woman's menstrual cycle and reproductive life (during the years a woman can have a baby) probably play a role.
Researchers also recently studied the male hormone testosterone, which is found in women and men but typically in higher levels in men. They found that treatment with testosterone had similar effects as antianxiety and antidepressant medicine for the women in the study.15
Other research focuses on anxiety disorders and depression during and after pregnancy and among overweight and obese women. For more clinical trials related to anxiety disorders and women, visit ClinicalTrials.gov.
For more information on anxiety disorders, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or contact the following organizations:
The Office on Women's Health is grateful for the additional reviews by:
All material contained on these pages are free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.
Page last updated: June 12, 2017.
Content last reviewed: February 12, 2015.