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Record Anxiety Levels Over Terrorism

Men, Women Have Different Ways of Dealing With Worry
By
WebMD Health News

Feb. 21, 2003 -- Look around you: Fights in hardware stores over duct tape. Cops patrolling Wall Street and Main Street in gear that looks like it came from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. A new spike in anxiety, perhaps even in your own home, not felt since the nail-biting days of Sept. 11.

Nearly half of all Americans admit in a recent Gallup survey to being "very" or "somewhat" worried that they will personally become a victim of terrorism. But women are twice as likely as men to report the highest levels of anxiety.

"People who are more vulnerable to this kind of anxiety are those who take more responsibility for dependents -- and women usually take care of the babies," says Rosalind Chait Barnett, PhD, senior scientist at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University and the author of six books, including Gender and Stress. "It's not only their own well-being they're worried about, but the well-being of all of those who depend on them."

It's not that the guys don't care. But while they fight over building supplies and wear riot gear, anation of women -- particularly mothers -- are flooding psychological centers with questions. They're sharing over coffee their visions of a nerve gas attack while they were shopping. And they're doing what they historically have done when crisis occurs: Seemingly out-worry men, and paying their price for it.

"Both men and women may have the same level of anxiety now, but they tend to express it differently," Barnett tells WebMD. "In times of anxiety, we know men have higher levels of risk-taking behavior such as alcoholism. Men act it out, women become more depressed. They become more self-critical. They develop more physical symptoms and take more trips to the doctor."

Mostly, they admit their terror more readily, says Michael Nuccitelli, PhD, director of SLS Health, a psychological treatment center in Brewster, N.Y. "From early on, women are brought up to take into considerations other people's feelings," he tells WebMD. "They tend to have more emotion and are more likely to be honest about feeling those emotions."

In his own survey done one month after the World Trade Center attack -- when terror anxiety was last at levels now reached -- Nuccitelli found that women admitted to higher levels of overall post-Sept. 11 trauma in all age groups except in ages 50-59, sometimes four times as often. He also found:

  • Almost half of the women and virtually no men reported being fearful of flying
  • One in three women and virtually no men said they were worried about further terror attacks
  • One in three women reported terrorist-related nightmares. No men did.
  • Four in 10 women avoided media coverage of Sept. 11. Men didn't.

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