Jennifer Wider, MD
The Covid-19 pandemic may have finally met its match with the vaccine efforts across the country, but it has left behind what some experts are calling a “mental health pandemic” in its wake. Depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders are all on a steep incline, especially among women. During the pandemic, roughly 4 in 10 adults in the United States report symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, but the numbers are probably higher, as many people don’t recognize that they are suffering from a mental health condition. American women are reporting difficulty sleeping, eating issues including weight gain, increase in alcohol consumption and worsening chronic conditions.
Doctors in all different fields of medicine are noticing this pattern. “Up to three times more of my patients have been reporting stress and anxiety symptoms,” says Dr. Cindy M. Duke, MD PhD FACOG. America’s only dual fertility expert and virologist and author of the upcoming book, “Infertility in the Time of COVID-19” . “For example, in the past 12 months, I’ve had to prescribe more anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications than I did for the whole 3 years preceding that time frame.”
Dr. Lola Adeyemi, a preventive and public health physician and the co-founder /COO of Magna Carta Health has also noted the uptick among her female patients: “Women come in with an overwhelming sense of exhaustion brought on by the many stressors of life…especially those that have suddenly lost their jobs or worse have lost their loved ones due to complications from COVID 19 and are just in a mental, social and physical space that they cannot fathom.”
It can be a challenge for many women to recognize that what they are experiencing is more than just stress. Even without a pandemic, women tend to be the caregivers for the family, whether for their partners, children, aging parent and in-laws, women tend to bear the burden of taking care of the health of other family members. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and the results can lead to a diagnosable disorder. “Stressful events can lead to the development of anxiety disorder,” explains Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael, MD FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in New York City. “The pandemic has been highly stressful for everyone, but women have faced even more challenges than their male counterparts because the burden of caring for sick relatives and homeschooling children has fallen disproportionately on women.”
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety but if the symptoms are persistent and get in the way of your daily functioning, it may be time to see a health-care provider. Symptoms to watch out for include:
*Rapid heart rate
*Nausea, changes in bowel habits
*Persistent feelings tension, restlessness and unease
*Trouble concentrating or ruminating about stressful thoughts
*Fatigue or exhaustion
*Shortness of breath
*Disruption in sleep or eating patterns
*Overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, panic or impending doom
*Dizziness and headaches
“Feeling anxious due to a stressful situation is a normal and expected emotional process for both men and women. When anxiety is happening without a trigger or persists for most of the day, it may indicate an anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety; examples are panic disorder, agoraphobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” explains Dr. Romie Mushtaq, MD a board-certified physician in neurology and integrative medicine has made it her career mission to address and improve brain health across the board. “Long-term research studies on anxiety consistently show that women have both higher diagnosis rates and more severe symptoms with the exception of social anxiety disorder. Before the pandemic, anxiety was twice as likely to happen in women than in men.”
Dr. Mustaq recommends promptly addressing the issue to understand the underlying issues and get to the root cause. When she assesses a woman’s medical history, she considers a broad list of factors including hormonal changes, history of trauma, gut health, key nutritional deficiencies and other lifestyle factors that can contribute to and worsen anxiety. As a result of the pandemic, people across the country have increased behaviors like alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation, increased screen time, excessive sugar intake and caffeine, that can all increase inflammation in the brain which can lead to anxiety, according to Mushtaq.
There are many ways to effectively manage and treat anxiety and it is prudent to seek medical attention if you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms. Like all other conditions, prompt attention to any medical issue is recommended and can lead to much relief.