It’s normal to feel anxious about certain things before, during, and after pregnancy – after all, you are now responsible for the growth of another little human inside of you (and taking care of him or her for years to come)! But something that many women either are ashamed to discuss or simply don’t recognize because it’s new to them is generalized anxiety.
Many women will admit after pregnancy that they began experiencing these feeling during pregnancy, but they didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone – either because they think they’re “losing their mind” or worry that feeling these symptoms makes them a “bad mother” – you have to keep in mind that your body is physiologically changing – that includes your hormones, including the way your brain works. The truth is, one in five women experience anxiety and/or depression during pregnancy – you are not alone!
If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety prior to pregnancy, hormones that increase/decrease in relation to pregnancy may exacerbate the conditions. If you’ve never experienced anxiety or depression before, hormones may trigger depression and/or anxiety, and you may have trouble understanding what it is if you are not familiar with the symptoms.
The most important thing to remind yourself throughout your pregnancy is that it’s ok to feel anxious, scared, and/or fearful. When you validate these feelings, you are giving yourself permission to lean into what’s going on, instead of sending your body into fight-or-flight mode trying to avoid it (which becomes worse on your mental, emotional, and even physical body). On that same note, it’s also ok to be excited, happy, and fearless about what’s to come!
There are many coping mechanisms for anxiety during pregnancy that you can try on your own:
- Call it by its name: we mentioned how validating the anxiety is the most important part to alleviating it, so come to terms with it. Don’t be embarrassed of it or bury it inside – inside you is a baby! You don’t want it there! When you try to push it down, that’s when outbursts and panic attacks happen – eventually, the dormant feelings will erupt, like a giant volcano.
- Take care of yourself physically: your physical and mental body are one – though pregnancy cravings are real (and totally OK), it’s most important to feed yourself nutrient-dense foods that allow your body and brain to function optimally. When you feel crappy about yourself physically, you’ll feel crappy about yourself mentally and emotionally.
- Diet: consume a diet high in vegetables and fiber and low in “bad” fats and refined sugars
- Exercise: no need to strain yourself, but stay moving, whether it’s simply walking or prenatal classes. If you are not an avid exerciser, start with 2 days per week, then work up to 4-5.
- Hydrate! Drink plenty of water – unfortunately, frequent urination is common in pregnancy – which is why some women tend to avoid drinking excess. It’s always better to pee more than be dehydrated!
- Sleep: sleep sometimes isn’t easy when you’re anxious, but physical activity along with meditation and mindful activities may help the ZZZ’s come easier.
- Learn to say no: don’t go to that luncheon if you don’t feel like it; don’t attend events when you’d rather sit at home on the couch. Don’t allow things to take your peace from you – and that includes doing favors for people. This is your time to be selfish (trust us, for the few – or many – years after pregnancy, you will have a tiny human doing nothing but needing things form you). It can be difficult saying no, especially when you’ve always been the “yes-woman,” and wanting (or needing) to say “no” can cause anxiety in itself. Give yourself the permission to say no and you’ll feel a lot more relaxed about doing so.
- Practice meditation and/or breathwork: meditation cultivates your ability to “sit with” (lean into) things – whether it’s silence, anxiety, or a difficult issue at hand. There are plenty of apps, YouTube videos, and even podcasts that will help you get started. There is no need for 60 minutes of meditation – start with just 10 minutes and work your way up.
Breathwork is a more focused form of meditation that uses breathing exercises to bring your mind to the present moment; when you’re focused on breathing within a specific pattern or method, you can’t really focus on anything else! If the thought of sitting still and meditating works you into even more anxiety, give breathwork a try.
- Distract yourself: if the anxiety is generalized and not on anything specific, distract yourself with relaxing or productive activities such as reorganizing a closet/cabinet (bonus: giving things away will also make you feel great!), getting your nails done, reading a book, exercising, or even coloring.
- Know when it’s too much: have a plan in place for when the warning signs of dangerously high anxiety levels and/or panic attacks creep up – just knowing you have a delineated escape plan often is enough to prevent these things from ever happening at all. Think of it as your “anxiety escape,” just like those fire escape diagrams all hotel rooms have on the back of each door.
Warning signs of an anxiety or panic attack are:
- Increased pulse
- Inability to take 10 deep, measured breaths
- Ears ringing
- Inability to “regain control” or take control of your situation – almost as if you’re seeing your entire situations from an outsider’s perspective looking in
- Flashbacks to previous anxious episodes and/or panic attacks
- Is anxiety meditation an option if these coping methods aren’t working for me? If holistic and/or physiological exercises are not alleviating your anxiety and it’s keeping you from everyday activities, there are medical options. When considering medication, treatment must be in the form of coordinated care between both your obstetrician and psychologist/psychiatrist. Studies have been favorable regarding minimal (if any) birth complications and/or defects for certain SSRIs that act as antidepressants with antianxiety characteristics, including Celexa, Zoloft, Pazel, Proxac, and more.
When you’re experiencing anxiety, you can often feel like your life is a never-ending tunnel of panic – in fact, you may be so far in it that you don’t exactly know what it would be like to be out of it! If your loved ones are telling you that you are exhibiting signs, consider the above practices or making an appointment with a specialist. When you feel better, your body supports your baby better – for a happy, healthy pregnancy!