In the past, we've mentioned how women have more anxiety about mathematics and that women decline in mental health in many relationships, but did you also know that women report being, in general, more socially anxious than men? A study in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences sheds light on this topic. Researchers distributed questionnaires to both genders in 18 countries and compared the levels of anxiety in individuals in five different scenarios. The results indicated that women were more susceptible to anxiety in social situations than men.
Researchers evaluated participants using the Social Anxiety Questionnaire for Adults, which involves a five level scale of unease, one equaling very slight or no anxiety and five being extremely high anxiety. The evaluation used five situations:
- Speaking in public or talking to people with authority
- Interacting with the opposite sex
- Asserting displeasure
- Being criticized for feeling embarrassed
- Interacting with strangers
In addition, the study also used the Lebowitz Social Anxiety Scale, a 24-item instrument that measures anxiety and avoidance in specific situations.
In all measures of social anxiety in this study, women had significantly higher levels of anxiety than men. The greatest difference was between men's and women's reactions to talking to the opposite sex. Women had significantly greater anxiety talking to men than men had talking to women. Other areas where women had significantly more anxiety than men included being criticized or embarrassed and speaking in public or talking to people with authority.
Nature or Nurture?
There are a variety of reasons women might have more anxiety than men, but one of the biggest conjectures has been that women have been socially conditioned to take on passive roles. Active conversational techniques, like initiating conversations with the opposite sex, talking to a superior, or being criticized could be something women are not used to. As a result, women might have a more difficult time than men, who more typically take on an active role in these situations.
Of course, this is not the only reason women may experience social anxiety. Reasons could be genetic, based in past traumas, or completely random. In the future, though, new research might show that the way we raise our children affects their social anxiety levels.
Conquering Social Anxiety
Regardless of where this anxiety stemmed from, there are ways to treat social anxiety. One common method of social anxiety treatment is a fear ladder. Fear ladders are guidelines that help you take small steps towards recovery. If your fear is public speaking, for example, your ultimate goal might be to give a speech in front of a room full of people, but you might start off reciting your speech in a mirror. Taking and repeating little steps in your fear ladder can make your social anxiety more manageable. If you need help building your fear ladder, our ABCtracker™ can walk you through the process.
While you go through these steps, it might be helpful to have a friend, family member, or therapist by your side to help. Breathe deeply not only during the exercise, but also any time you are feeling anxious. Keep in mind that overcoming your anxiety is key to leading a healthier and happier life.
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Vicente E. Caballoa, Isabel C. Salazara, María Jesús Irurtiab, Benito Ariasb, and Stefan G. Hofmannc. Differences in social anxiety between men and women across 18 countries. Personality and Individual Differences, July 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.02.013
Date of original publication: May 01, 2014
Updated: February 02, 2017