How to manage anxiety and stress whilst pregnant
Pregnancy anxiety is something that affects a lot of women – more than one in ten in fact. Your body is going through a lot of changes both physically and hormonal and whether this is your first, second or third child, you’ll know your life is going to change and some things are beyond your control. On top of that, labour can be a very daunting prospect and we’ve all heard some horror stories that could give anyone anxiety about the process. That life that is growing inside us is so important yet there are so many unknowns and questions. I worried about everything! I worried about whether he was growing, if his kicks were usual (if he kicked too much, if he kicked too little!), I worried if I was eating right, if my weight gain was too much. I worried about giving birth. I worried about how I’d cope after the birth, I even worried about things like how to change a nappy or whether to use a pacifier and let’s not get started on breastfeeding anxiety. I even worried about how it would change my relationship with my husband, how he would cope with the baby and how it would affect us financially moving forward. Does any of this sound familiar?
Having anxiety whilst pregnant isn’t unusual, but any level of stress and anxiety isn’t ideal as chronic anxiety or stress can affect the baby, so it’s good to be aware of it and have some ideas for how to manage it. Sometimes anxiety whilst pregnant can become uncontrollable and we need to ask for help. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I suffered from both pre and postnatal anxiety and found my midwife, GP and mental health support worker extremely understanding and helpful – but asking for help was still terrifying.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can creep up on us. I didn’t wake up one morning and think the world was suddenly ending. My thought processes changed slowly over time until it seemed like I was always on red-alert, always worried about something, always trying to push negative thoughts away. It became pervasive so slowly that I didn’t even realize how much it was affecting me. Insomnia during pregnancy is also quite common so I didn’t realize how much my anxiety was affecting my sleep as well.
Anxiety symptoms can include some or all of the following:
- Worrying about things all the time and not being able to control it.
- Feeling anxious about things that you previously would have felt okay with.
- Being unable to concentrate for long periods of time, which could result in lower work performance, or even just whilst reading a book or watching TV.
- Lack of sleep
- Feeling tense and unable to relax and unwind at the end of the day.
- Being irritable and snapping at friends or family members.
- Feeling over emotional and being unable to control your emotions.
- Repeating things such as washing or checking things to try to control fear.
In addition, panic attacks can have any of the above symptoms and usually also include some physical symptoms such as:
- Fast breathing
- Feeling like you can’t breathe
- Feeling like your blood is pounding
- Thinking that you’re going crazy
- Being extremely afraid of something (a sudden fear that your car is going to crash when nothing wrong is happening).
- Feeling like you’re having a heart attack or going to die.
Panic attacks can be terrifying, especially at first when you’re not sure what’s happening or what to do. If you think you are suffering from anxiety or panic attacks during pregnancy you need to talk to your midwife, GP, health visitor or whichever medical professional is available to you.
Getting professional help for anxiety whilst pregnant
If your pregnancy anxiety is stopping you from living life as you normally would, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, out of control or suffering physical symptoms such as increased breathing, increased heartbeat, feeling faint or suffering panic attacks, book an appointment with your midwife as soon as possible and have a chat about how you’re feeling and what the options are. There are support workers specifically for pregnant women who will help you with coping techniques and see if you need any additional assistance with medication. They can help find the safest and most suitable medication for you, if you need it.
Your midwife, GP or mental health worker can help you with cognitive behaviour techniques, which can help with a massive range of mental health problems. I did three months of CBT after the birth and found it extremely helpful. I wish I’d known you could do it before the birth as I think it would helped me with a lot of my anxiety before and during labour. So don’t be afraid to ask what help is available to you. CBT doesn’t have to be done face to face as it’s all about learning to cope with your own thoughts. My CBT was done online through the NHS system, much like studying from home – with additional support available via email or phone with my mental health support worker, or through a weekly drop in clinic with my health visitor. This let me do it at my own pace without having to go into a hospital or doctors surgery.
Talk to your partner, family or friends
Whilst it may seem like it’s such a simple answer, sometimes just talking about our feelings really helps. Talking to your partner, a close family member or friend – or attending a support group with other people feeling similar to you, can really help you process your thoughts and work through your feelings. By going to antenatal classes or even just joining local Facebook groups for mums you can create a support network of people to talk to.
Look after yourself
Your physical and emotional well-being are firmly tied together. There are many studies which directly link things like having a good diet and getting fresh air and exercise with improving mental health, even in those suffering quite severely.
- Eat a well balanced diet that contains unprocessed fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, dairy and wholegrain.
- Avoid high sugary items like soda and heavily processed meals like fast food.
- Try to stay active (which can be very tough, especially towards the end of pregnancy). This could mean just a 10 minute walk outside.
- Rest when you need to – including extra naps and extra sleep at night.
- Don’t take on too much – say no if you feel like something is too much work or will be too hard to cope with.
Arm Yourself with Knowledge
I don’t know about you, but if I’m freaking out about something, having facts really helps to calm me down. Pregnancy brings with it an absolute ton of questions, but by keeping yourself informed, you can help alleviate some worries. Going to antenatal and birthing classes, first aid courses or reading books can really help you feel in control of the situation. It wasn’t until I started reading and learning about anxiety that I felt that I understood it more. By giving myself as much knowledge about it as possible, I felt equipped to start tackling it.
Here are some books I recommend about pregnancy, parenthood and about anxiety as well:
- Overcoming Anxiety by Helen Kennerley
- Overcoming Anxiety, Stress and Panic by Chris Williams
- The Supermum Myth by Anya Hayes and Dr Rachel Andrew (my full review).
- How to Grow a Baby and Push it Out by Clemmie Hooper
- The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill
- What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff
- First Time Parent: The honest guide to coping brilliantly and staying sane, by Lucy Atkins
Those are Amazon links and are affiliate links, but your local library should either stock them or be able to order them in as well.
If anything is worrying you or you have questions about your pregnancy or giving birth, make a note of it and take the whole list to your next midwife appointment. I was always bombarding mine with questions and she took them all in her stride. They’re there to help!
Relaxation Tips for Pregnancy Anxiety
The tips that I shared in how to be a happier mum are relevant here too. It’s important to find you time and actually relax. Meditation, yoga, acupuncture and aromatherapy have all been proven to have positive affects on people suffering from anxiety. But it doesn’t have to be anything complicated – just finding time to listen to your favourite songs for 10 minutes of the day whilst concentrating on some breathing exercises for stress (NHS page) can have an improvement on anxiety whilst pregnant. A long bath with some lovely bath bombs and a massage from my partner are some of my favourite ways of relaxing after a stressful day.
Whilst stress and anxiety aren’t the same, the relaxation tips you’d follow to reduce stress will improve your anxiety as well. Simple strategies will build up. 10 minutes a day listening to your favourite music, your feet up and a cup of (decaff) tea can really make a difference.
So as you can see, the way you’re feeling now, whether you just have a few worries, mild anxiety or feel like you’re being overwhelmed and need to reach out for help is normal and there are resources out there to help you cope and support you through this journey. Motherhood is a rollercoaster and we’re all on it together, so if there’s anything you want to ask me about my journey with antenatal and postnatal anxiety, with CBT or the books I’ve read and recommended, just leave a comment, or email if you’d rather it be private.
If you have any tips yourself to share for other new or expecting mums about pregnancy anxiety, please share them in the comments as I’d love to hear them and pass them on.