Study: Young Women Are Likely to Feel More Anxious

May 25th 2015

Taylor Ellis

Anxiety appears to be on the rise in women. In general, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Additionally, according to a study conducted by Medco, in 2010 more than 20 percent of the adult population were on medications to treat psychological and behavioral disorders — up 22 percent from ten years earlier. During this study, more than 25 percent of the adult female population were on these drugs as compared to just 15 percent of men.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Occasional anxiety is completely normal, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A person may feel temporary anxiety over an upcoming test, a work presentation, or another type of "fight or flight" situation. In those with anxiety disorder, worry and/or fear -- which would in some cases propel a person to perform -- is not temporary. Instead it worsens and can hinder a person's ability to function.

There are several, distinct types of anxiety disorder: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia. Social phobia or a fear of being judged by the people around you is the most common form of anxiety disorder, according to an NBC report.

So what could be the reason behind a rise in anxiety among young women?

A focus on extrinsic values could be a large source of anxiety, according to Jean Twenge, Ph.D., a professor at San Diego State University and the author of "Generation Me." When people strenuously pursue goals that focus on money, looks, and status, they may be more likely to feel anxious and depressed.

“If you’re focusing too much on how you look to others, in the end, it would be negative for your mental health,” Twenge said.

For past generations, intrinsic values mattered more. According to Twenge, surveys of high school and college students show an increase in materialistic values from the 1970s through today. It is possible that this societal change could account for the increase in anxiety disorders.

Social media could potentially be a factor. According to, trying to mind read can increase the fear of social anxiety. Mind reading, in terms of anxiety, is when a person tries to think something is true before they confirm it. When a person is browsing through their social media networks, it's common for them to mind read. For example, because we can't show tone through text, someone might read a message as sarcastic when it's really meant to be sincere.

“A lengthy involved conversation with your best friend is going to make you much happier in the long run than getting 50 likes on your selfie,” Twenge explained.

According to Twenge, another reason why young women are more prone to anxiety disorders is that women are more likely to ruminate. When a woman turns a situation in her head over and over again, it makes it much harder for her to forget her worries. Thus, these worries muster into anxious thoughts and feelings. Men are not as likely to ruminate and this decreases their chances of developing anxiety.

Coping with anxiety.

Even though there is still a stigma surrounding anxiety disorders, there are signs that the fear of discussing mental health issues is lessening. Actresses including Emma Stone and Jessica Alba are just two of many celebrities who have publicly discussed their anxiety.

For those suffering from anxiety, Twenge explained that it is important to remember that you aren’t alone — and of course, statistics can further support this notion.

“Realize that you’re not the only one [with anxiety] and realize that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness,” Twenge said. For friends supporting those with anxiety disorder, ATTN: has put together a guide on how to talk about mental health.