Pre-baby jitters are absolutely normal, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer your way through pregnancy anxiety. Clinical psychologist Candice Cowen has expert input to help you cope when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Whether you are a first-time mom, or this is your second or third baby, it is quite normal to experience some anxiety during pregnancy. What causes this? Firstly, anxiety is a biologically programmed response that all humans have in order for us to survive when faced with danger or a life-threatening situation. Anxiety also helps in everyday life when it comes to acting as a motivator in getting tasks done, performing to the best of our ability, and keeping up with the fast-paced life of the 21st century. Anxiety is a common symptom during pregnancy and often can often make everyday worries about health, job-related responsibilities, relationship issues and worries about finances, seem larger than life. Add to this, worrying about what kind of parent you’ll be, feeling overwhelmed or scared by the thought of the parental responsibilities, and your body suddenly having a mind of its own, and it’s no surprise that you are a pregnant anxious wreck.
You are not alone
Of course, you were expecting a pregnancy glow – not the red flush of anxiety. It’s the part of pregnancy that isn’t frequently or openly spoken about, but anxiety can create confusion when a mom-to-be experiences it. This may leave women feeling reluctant to speak about what they are experiencing, and even less likely to seek help as they may feel guilty because of the perception that “This should be happiest time in my life”. The truth is that growing a human is hard work, and so are the many years of parenting that lay ahead. It’s entirely normal to feel nervous. However, too much anxiety is not good for you or your baby, so it’s important that it doesn’t consume you. Use smart strategies to lower the preggie stress.
What you can do
There are self-help activities that can help you cope, but these work best when you are aware of the anxiety and how it affects you. This means being able to identify whether the anxiety that is being experienced is more physical or emotional. Once this is established, you can start looking at incorporating routines that help to reduce anxiety into your everyday life.
How to identify the physical symptoms of preggie anxiety
Physical symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy vary in terms of severity and frequency but can include headaches; dry mouth; dizziness; nauseas; tightening of chest; tense muscles; sore neck; heart pounding or racing; sweating hands or feet; tingling sensations in extremities; numbness of skin and ringing of the ears.
Additionally, pregnant women may experience emotional symptoms of anxiety which can include: an amount of worry about certain aspects of their pregnancy (such as their or the health of their baby)
For physical symptoms of anxiety
- Yoga or meditation classes where a practice of mindfulness is incorporated can help you feel more in control. Any mindful activity such a yoga or meditation can assist with anxiety in both physical decompressing of anxiety symptoms as well as emotional symptoms. Anxiety is well known for it’s future-orientated or past orientated thinking. Meaning, anxiety makes it difficult for your attention to be present focused. It often wanders to future or past worried which is beyond our control, which can leave one feeling helpless and disempowered. Mindfulness teaches the brain to direct attention to what controllable and solvable right here is and now, thus reducing anxiety.
- Pregnancy massages or water aerobics may assist also in decompressing the physical symptoms of anxiety.
For emotional symptoms of anxiety
- Understanding what you are experiencing helps to create a sense of control when feeling overwhelmed. Create a daily log where you can jot down your thoughts and your feelings.
- Building helpful and positive support around you is vital – both now and after your baby’s birth. Speak to your partner or family members about how you feel or joining a mom-to-be group.
- Schedule time to relax every day. You are pregnant – be kind to yourself.
- Attend positive parenting classes or workshops with your partner to equip yourselves with developmental and parenting knowledge.
- Getting enough sleeping is essential as a lack of sleep can amplify anxiety symptoms
- Eat a healthy, balance diet to ensure you’re taking in enough nutrients.
- Engaging in daily mindful activities will have a positive impact on reducing the stress response (biological anxiety) and reduce the amount of experienced and perceived amount of anxiety moms-to-be experience.
When it’s serious
When anxiety starts to consume you and negatively impacts your ability to do everyday tasks, a more serious form of anxiety could be at play that may need further medical intervention. This form of anxiety is known as antenatal anxiety and causes physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, muscle tension, or headaches. Antenatal anxiety also creates difficulty in being able to concentrate on tasks and creates an overwhelming sense of fear, panic and restlessness. This is serious, and if left untreated leaves a mom-to-be at an increased risk of developing postnatal depression. Fortunately, antenatal anxiety is treatable with the help of mental health professionals such as trained psychologists and psychiatrists. In South Africa we have organisations that can help, such as the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) that can assist women or their families who need more information about antenatal anxiety. There’s nothing to be ashamed about – the truth is that just about every mom-to-be is carrying a lump of anxious knots under that growing belly.