As you’ve probably heard, women suffer anxiety, or at least seek treatment for it, more often than men. Anecdotally, I think it is possible women experience anxiety more. After all, there are a number of psychiatric conditions men are more prone to. I think men are frequently stressed, but stress is the condition of knowing what you need to do, and having to nearly kill yourself to get it done. Anxiety is the condition of not knowing what it is people expect from you, and that no matter what you do, someone’s going to hate you for it. I think the latter is more common in the experience of women (and perhaps men who fall outside the “able-bodied, white, heterosexual, etc.” demographic).
But I recently stumbled onto the most ludicrously simple and aggravating factoid I’ve come across in years: breathing through your chest can trigger anxiety. It makes your autonomic nervous system – the instinctive “fight or flight” system – think you’re trying to hyperventilate so you can run from some imminent threat. This system responds by releasing loads of adrenaline to help you run or fight, but because you’re not in actual physical danger, you’re left with unneeded adrenaline running through your body like a drug. This can bring on acute panic attacks or chronic anxiety in people.
As soon as I read this, I realized, yep, I’m a chest-breather. I was taught as a girl to suck in my stomach, put back my shoulders and stick out my chest while I breathe. It was presented to me as good posture, but it came to me alongside inordinately long 1980s discussions of who had the flattest stomach and how important a flat stomach was for a girl and how disgusting it was if she had that little curve to the belly that later became so cute and fashionable, after I was all grown up and my body image was seriously fucked up. (I was actually pissed in the 90s when I saw the unfashionably curvy ass I had carried through my teen years being applauded on Jennifer Lopez’ backside. What the hell, people? I had that ass, and even doctors were nagging me to lose it?) I suspect this has more to do with showing off our tits and looking like we have cute little tiny waists, because what’s a life free of anxiety if men think you are unsightly, right? (That would be sarcasm, yes.)
This was all coming from the internet, so I recently decided to see a psychiatrist to deal with my own lifelong anxiety issues. She who confirmed that, yes, women are generally taught to breathe through their chests, and yes, this does indeed contribute significantly to anxiety.
Anyone care to argue that society’s pressure on girls to look a certain way does not constitute malicious disregard for our health and well-being? Try it and I will bring up corsets, I swear.