7 Tips for Coping with Anxiety During Pregnancy

Medically reviewed by Kimberly Dishman, MSN, WHNP-BC on May 23, 2016Written by Ashley Marcin on May 23, 2016

Intro

A few months ago, you were thrilled to see that second line on your positive pregnancy test. Now? You’re feeling worried at every twist and turn that something might be wrong. It’s a feeling you just can’t shake, and it’s starting to affect your everyday life.

Isn’t pregnancy supposed to be a time of joy? If you suffer from anxiety, it can be complicated. Here’s more about anxiety during pregnancy and some ways you can cope.

Anxiety during pregnancy

You may have heard that postpartum depression is a major concern for women after delivery. But there are other mood conditions that may affect your pregnancy. More than 1 in 10 pregnant women experience anxiety at some point.

Causes of anxiety during pregnancy

Some women experience a decrease in their symptoms during pregnancy, but your anxiety may get worse. After all, not everything that makes you feel anxious is under your control. Hormonal changes during pregnancy may affect the chemicals in your brain. This can cause anxiety.

Pregnancy is also a time of tremendous change. Some of these feelings and sensations are welcomed, while others are downright uncomfortable and scary. You may even have complications or other issues that arise that keep you up at night.

Symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy

Some degree of worry is natural during pregnancy. After all, the process may be entirely new for you. You may have faced situations in the past, like miscarriage, that give you reason for concern. But if these worries start to interfere with everyday life, you may have anxiety.

Symptoms include:

  • feeling an uncontrollable sense of anxiousness
  • worrying excessively about things, especially your health or baby
  • 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 symptoms above, and progress. During a panic attack, your symptoms may be very physical in nature, which can make the experience that much worse.

Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • feeling like you cannot breathe
  • feeling like you’re going crazy
  • feeling like something awful may happen

Risk factors for anxiety during pregnancy

While anyone can develop anxiety during pregnancy, there are certain risk factors that may contribute, including:

  • family history of anxiety or panic attacks
  • personal history of anxiety, panic attacks, or depression
  • previous trauma
  • use of certain illegal drugs
  • excess stress in everyday life

Treatment for anxiety during pregnancy

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 stopping the cycle is easier said than done. Still, research shows that there is good reason to get your anxiety under control.

High levels of anxiety during pregnancy are associated with a risk of developing conditions like preeclampsia, premature birth, and low birth weight.

Tips for coping with anxiety during pregnancy

1. Talk about it

If you’re feeling very anxious during your pregnancy, 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 may be enough to keep them 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 women.

2. Find a release

Engaging in activities that help to lower stress and anxiety may be a good option for you. Physical activity helps your body release endorphins. These act like natural painkillers in your brain. Moving your body is one of the most recommended ways to manage stress.

Effective activities include:

  • walking
  • running
  • yoga

Don’t like to stroll, jog, or strike a pose? Do what you love! Anything that gets your body moving can help. Aerobic activity for as short as five 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 try activities that help your body release endorphins without working up a sweat, including:

  • meditation
  • acupuncture
  • massage therapy
  • deep breathing exercises

The American Institute of Stress recommends deep abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes per day to help with anxiety. Doing so will help provide more oxygen to your brain and stimulate your nervous system.

To try it, get in a comfortable seated position and close your eyes. Imagine yourself smiling inwardly and release tension in your muscles. Then visualize that there are holes in your feet. Breathe in and imagine the air circulating through your body. Exhale and repeat.

4. Rest up

It’s important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Though sleep may seem elusive during pregnancy, making it a priority may help significantly with your anxiety symptoms. Do you wake up often at night? Try sneaking in a nap whenever you feel the urge.

5. Write about it

Sometimes you may not feel like talking. All those thoughts need someplace to go. Try starting a journal where you can let out your feelings without fear of judgment.

You may find that writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you organize or prioritize your worries. You can track different triggers 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, what your body does, 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 mothers who may be worried about similar things.

7. Ask your doctor

If your anxiety is affecting your daily life or you’re having frequent panic attacks, call your doctor. The sooner you get help, the better. Beyond referral to a therapist, there may be medications you can take to 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? You can always explore changing providers.

Next steps

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.

CMS Id: 104235