Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time — that nervous, worrisome feeling that can occur just before a looming deadline, making a big presentation at work, or just about any other event or situation.
Pregnancy also tends to create high levels of anxiety for expecting parents, which isn’t surprising. After all, you’re bringing a new life into the world!
We’ll dig into some concrete tips on how to cope with extra stress and worry that may be growing as your belly does — but first, here’s what might be causing your anxiety, as well as some symptoms and risk factors to look out for.
Pregnancy triggers an abundance of hormonal changes that can alter your mood, which, in turn, may make it more difficult to handle stress. And stress can lead to anxiety.
Unsurprisingly, the constant barrage of physical changes that come with pregnancy can certainly cause some anxiety.
Some degree of worry is natural during pregnancy. A tiny new life is developing inside your body, and the prospect of experiencing complications, giving birth, or raising a child can be kinda scary.
But if these worries start to interfere with everyday life, the worry can also be considered anxiety.
- feeling an uncontrollable sense of anxiousness
- worrying excessively about things, especially your health or baby
- having an inability to concentrate
- feeling irritable or agitated
- having tense muscles
- sleeping poorly
Occasionally, bouts of anxiety may lead to panic attacks. These attacks may start very suddenly with the aforementioned symptoms and progress.
Symptoms of a panic attack include feeling like:
- you cannot breathe
- you’re “going crazy”
- something awful may happen
While anyone can develop anxiety during pregnancy, there are certain risk factors that may contribute:
- family history of anxiety or panic attacks
- personal history of anxiety, panic attacks, or depression
- previous trauma
- misuse of drugs
- excess stress in everyday life
Mild cases of anxiety usually don’t require any specific treatment, though it’s a good idea to mention your feelings to your doctor.
In severe cases, your doctor may recommend medication after weighing the benefits and risks.
Anxiety and your baby
Well-meaning friends may have told you that you need to stop worrying because it isn’t good for the baby. While their sentiment comes from a good place, you may feel like eliminating worry is easier said than done.
High levels of anxiety during pregnancy can put you at higher risk of developing conditions like preeclampsia, premature birth, and low birth weight.
If you’re feeling an unusual amount of stress and worry during your pregnancy, consider these tips:
1. Talk about it
When you feel your anxiety spike, it’s important to tell someone. Your partner, a close friend or family member may be able to offer support.
Simply sharing your thoughts and feelings with others may be enough to keep those thoughts from taking over your everyday life.
You may also ask your doctor to refer you to a therapist who is trained to help with anxiety. Some therapists specialize in helping pregnant people with anxiety.
2. Find a release
Engaging in physical activities that help to lower stress and anxiety may be a good option. Movement helps the body release endorphins, which act like natural pain relievers in the brain.
Effective activities include:
Don’t like to stroll, jog, or strike a pose? Just do what you love. Anything that gets your body moving can help. Even engaging in aerobic activity for as little as 5 minutes has been shown to have positive benefits.
Always speak with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine during pregnancy.
3. Move your mind
You can also try activities that help your body release endorphins without working up a sweat, including:
- massage therapy
- deep breathing exercises
4. Rest up
Though sleep may seem elusive during pregnancy, making it a priority may help significantly with anxiety symptoms.
If backaches or other pregnancy symptoms are preventing you from getting a good night’s rest, try taking an afternoon nap.
5. Write about it
Journaling about your thoughts and feelings can also help ease anxiety — and there’s no need to worry about anyone judging you.
You may find that writing about your emotions helps you organize or prioritize your worries. You can track different events that may be triggering episodes of anxiety to share with your doctor, too.
6. Empower yourself
Tokophobia is the fear of childbirth. If your anxiety is tied to childbirth itself, consider signing up for a birth class. Learning about the different stages of labor and what to expect at each turn may help demystify the process.
These classes often offer suggestions for dealing with pain. They’ll also give you an opportunity to chat with other pregnant people who may be worried about similar things.
7. Talk to your doctor
If your anxiety is affecting your daily life or you’re having frequent panic attacks, call your healthcare provider. The sooner you get help, the better. There may be medications available that can ease your most severe symptoms.
You should never feel embarrassed about sharing your thoughts and feelings, especially if they concern you.
Don’t feel like you’re getting enough support from your current doctor? You can always explore selecting a different healthcare provider.
Anxiety during pregnancy is common. It’s also highly individual, so what may work to help your friend may not alleviate your own worries.
Keep the lines of communication open with the people you love, try some stress management techniques, and keep your doctor in the loop.
The sooner you get help, the sooner you’ll be able to gain peace of mind for your health and the health of your growing baby.