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Anxiety: The New Young Woman's Health Crisis

Posted: December 10, 2010

Editor's note: A new article in Glamour magazine addresses the growing health crisis for young women: anxiety. Many spa clients look for relief from anxiety symptoms in your spa. How are you addressing their needs? Are you recommending that they see their physician for extreme cases? Read this article to find out more about the condition and how you can help.

Anxiety. It’s a term that’s often tossed around in conversation—as a casual synonym for stress, or worry, or that feeling you get when you look at your to-do list. But for 40 million Americans, anxiety disorders are debilitating and omnipresent, and women are twice as likely to suffer as men, according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. “There is an intense, constant fear that is hard to describe,” says Laura Rowe, 34, of Denver. “It’s a sinking feeling in your stomach—almost as if someone is stalking you and you never know when those arms are going to wrap around you and drag you away.” And more and more of us are being diagnosed: A recent study of about 63,700 college students found that five times as many young adults are dealing with high levels of anxiety as in the late 1930s (itself a stressful time!).

How prevalent is it?

The signs of anxiety’s prevalence among women are everywhere: Ads for anti-anxiety drugs run frequently on TV shows often aimed at women; young female stars, like the actress Amanda Seyfried, confide their own experiences in the press; websites like attract thousands of users. And though no national data of rates in women exist, many experts believe the surge is not just media hype—it’s real. “I think there’s little question that there’s more anxiety today, and that women, in particular, are feeling it,” says JoAnn E. Manson, MD, chief of the division of preventive medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I see it not only among patients but with friends, colleagues and people I interact with daily.”

That staggering statistic

One general practitioner—not a psychiatrist—estimates that one in five of the patients she sees now is there for anxiety issues, making it one of the most common reasons young women show up in her exam room. Megan Catalano, 34, of Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, is living proof of all the statistics. “In my M.F.A. program last year, Xanax was everywhere,” she says. “I always thought my anxiety was a quirk particular to me. It was shocking to realize how many of my girlfriends and classmates felt the same way.”

How underdiagnosed is it?

Ironically, despite the condition’s seeming ubiquity, experts Glamour spoke to agree that anxiety is actually underdiagnosed among women. “The average length of time between the onset of symptoms—the time a woman starts feeling bad—and when she gets actual diagnosis is between nine and 12 years,” says Robert Leahy, PhD, a clinical professor of psychology and psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. “And of those who are diagnosed, only a very small percentage get adequate help.”

Why don’t women seek help?