Many women are predisposed to feelings of anxiety and the fact is that 20 to 30% of women will experience some form of anxiety during pregnancy. Pregnancy by itself can lead to anxiety because there are so many physical and emotional transformations, and also because pregnancy can also bring new life challenges to you, your relationship and your family.
Excessive stress with constant pressure at work, at family, constant worry, fear about childbirth and parenting, a sense of panic, can be true signs of anxiety, and pregnancy can become very overwhelming if that is your case.
But when should anxiety be a cause for concern? And how can it be treated during pregnancy?
Mental health should be given just as much attention and care as physical health, especially during and after pregnancy. Women find themselves very lonely when dealing with these issues because their partner and family do not understand how it is possible to feel bad in a moment that should bring so much joy to their lives.
Depending on the severity level, anxiety during pregnancy can easily be treated with light psychological therapies or simple meditation and relaxation training that will help you become aware of yourself, your body, your thoughts, and feelings, keeping you in the present moment and not in the future or past memories that are triggering your anxiety.
In order to prevent and take care of what it could be an anxiety disorder, women should make an effort to communicate, share, express their thoughts and feelings even when they feel vulnerable. It is the only way to successfully take care of anxiety and your baby can give you the strength to overcome these challenges.
I always remind women that they are creating and inspiring their baby inside, the baby is feeling what the mother feels as if it was his or her own experience. So a mother that decides to act and move through her challenges is also imprinting on her baby that challenges can be overcome.
Besides that, stress hormones that are triggered with anxiety affect both mother and baby. When a pregnant woman suffers from high levels of anxiety she may develop more physical complaints compared to other pregnant women, have more chance of requesting a primary cesarean section and of developing posttraumatic stress and postpartum depression. Long term and high levels of anxiety are also associated with an increase in the risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, low APGARS level in the newborn. Long term effects include increased baby’s emotional reactivity, attention problems, fussiness, pour bond between mother and baby.
But what exactly is normal anxiety and what is not?
There is definitely a difference between being worried about something and being consumed about being worried. Everyone worries, it is normal, natural and it is human, it keeps you out of dangerous situations. Think about thousands of years ago, when we were back in the wild, we would be worried about our own safety, we would be on alert but not on «high alert» all the time. Anxiety is like setting a false alarm in your system that goes on day in and day out with no need because you are not in a dangerous situation most of the time.
A lot of women, during pregnancy, feel they are amplifying their worries, they worry about whether they are going to be good moms if their babies are healthy. Others might worry about how their relationships will change, how siblings will react, or even how their financial life will be. You may feel insomnia and become more sensitive to things that you were not before, that is also natural.
But if you persistently experience:
- Trouble in concentrating on your day-to-day life
- Trouble in functioning at work or home
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Frequent sense of fear or restlessness
- Thoughts of worry and anticipation all the time
- Obsessive thoughts that just don’t go away
- Frequent sense of panic
- That it’s hard to enjoy simple things in life that used to make you feel good
- Severe fatigue
- Restless and disrupted sleep patterns
- If your body is having heart palpitations, hot flashes, dizziness and nausea, and muscle tension
If you persistently experience powerful levels of some or one of these symptoms, that isn’t normal or healthy, and it definitely affects your ability to function normally. This is when women should talk with a specialist because, for some women, their normal anxiety can escalate and can become an anxiety disorder.
What you can do
There are now effective forms of anxiety treatment throughout pregnancy and women don’t need to feel so unsupported. Breathing and relaxation techniques have been shown to significantly reduce anxiety during pregnancy and that does not include any medications. Strategies for self-management have also been found to be effective. Prenatal yoga and meditation have also been proven to be an excellent modality to help stabilize stress hormones. Prioritizing your sleep cycle, schedule a time during the day to slow down and become aware of your feelings, go for a 10-minute walk or get time for swimming, for being in the same water environment as your baby, will also help your inner connection. Listen to happy music and eat a healthy diet for emotional and physical energy can really make you feel more positive. In my work, I have also included bonding techniques to help women feel connected and bonded with their baby throughout pregnancy and beyond. Build a support system. Spend time with friends who are expecting as well and consider joining an online community to connect with others who are coping with the same feelings as you.
Get more information about anxiety because it will help you to become more aware of your inner environment, triggers and reactions, moving you to change habits and behavior.
These strategies alone or combined may be sufficient to help pregnant mothers experience less anxiety but you should always remember yourself that you will have your baby and your instinct as a mother by your side, and you will know what to do when you surround yourself with good supportive people and work on yourself because what your baby will really need is your love and a mother on her best potential.