Pregnancy is truly a life changing event for women. It’s a time of incredible psychological and biological transformation and of great emotional upheaval. Individual experience with pregnancy may vary, but for the most part it is viewed with great optimism. It’s a period that introduces a new type of physical and psychological strength, personal develop and of marvelous feelings. There is however a darker side to pregnancy that affects up to 5 to 16% of women and is characterized by anxiety that becomes so severe and overwhelming that it begins to function their day-to-day activities and abilities.
Whether you’re a first-time parent or expecting a new addition to your family, struggled to get pregnant or just got lucky from the get go, pregnancy can bring up many concerns. It’s normal to wonder: Is my baby developing properly? Am I going to be a good mother? Is the baby kicking enough? The reality is that this life changing experience brings about reasonable fears and worries that can only help us become better parents. After a certain point however, anxiety can be a cause for concern and if left unattended can be detrimental to not only your health, but your baby’s as well.
What’s a ‘Normal’ Amount Anxiety
Anxiety isn’t a mental state unique to pregnancy; it’s part of being human! Everyone worries about their life and pregnancy can exacerbate those worries considering it takes into account another life. Most concerns during pregnancy revolve around the health of the baby – this is especially true for women who had fertility problems or experienced pregnancy losses. Other concerns may consider ones viability as a parent, how this change might affect current relationships, the financial aspects of raising a child – all these and more are completely normal things to think about.
But there’s a point where normal worrying becomes severe anxiety during pregnancy, or antenatal anxiety. It’s time to speak to a healthcare provider about your anxiety if you’re unable to focus on your day-to-day life; experience a sense of panic, fear or restlessness frequently; having lingering and obsessive thoughts; are unable to function at home or work; or find yourself in a constant state of unhappiness or sadness. Other signs that may point to a serious anxiety disorder can include physical manifestations such as an increased heart rate, muscle tension, chills and a constant cold sweat. This is the point where anxiety isn’t normal or health.
How to Identify Anxiety
Recognizing anxiety can be challenging, especially when you’re unable to determine what is considered an unhealthy amount of thinking on your own. The greatest distinction between anxiety and normal worries is your level of distress and ability to function.
- Our bodies
- Our mind
- Our actions or behaviors
Physical manifestations of anxiety include: an increased heart rate, upset stomach or gastrointestinal distress, headaches, shallow or difficulty breathing, loss of appetite and fatigue.
Mental manifestations of anxiety include: constant rumination, fleeting thoughts about the future, worst-case scenario thoughts, worrying and obsessing, fear and terror.
Anxiety can affect many of your normal and routine behaviors including: trouble falling asleep, avoiding certain places or situations, lacking interest in hobbies or activities you typically enjoy, over-controlling people, situations and things; asking for constant reassurance, incessant and unprovoked crying, isolation and practicing excessive and obsessive caution.
Who’s at Risk
Any woman can develop anxiety during pregnancy, according to a poll by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, around 52% of pregnant women reported experiencing increased anxiety or depression. In some cases, some women may be more prone to developing anxiety during pregnancy than others, which is good cause for paying close attention to how you’re feeling when you’re pregnant:
- Currently diagnosed or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder
- Experienced anxiety during a past pregnancy
- A family history of developing anxiety disorders with or without pregnancy
- Experiencing pregnancy complications
- Stress at home or work
- Fertility complications or a previous pregnancy loss.
Anxiety can also be caused by the rapid fluctuation your body experiences during pregnancy. Women in particular are more prone to anxiety than men and it has a lot to do with biological processes such as hormones. During pregnancy a woman will experience the highest production of estrogen in her life. Estrogen is a hormone that is known to interact with serotonin, a mood modulating hormone. The sudden spike in estrogen and constant change during pregnancy can heavily influence serotonin levels, causing an imbalance and inducing mental states such as depression, anxiety and panic disorders.
Why Seek Help?
It’s common for women to leave their anxiety untreated due to social stigma and mistaking their anxiety for ‘silly worries’. In reality however, ignoring or dealing with anxiety has proven to be more harmful than openly admitting and embracing your mental state. This is especially true for women experiencing anxiety during pregnancy. Even though you might think that your fleeting thoughts will subside once the baby arrives, research has shown that women with untreated anxiety during pregnancy are at an increased risk of developing postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. In addition, the physical ailments induced by anxiety during pregnancy can cause complications during labor and increase the risk for post-traumatic stress symptoms after birthing your child.
But anxiety during pregnancy doesn’t just affect you. Research has found that mothers struggling with anxiety have an increased risk of premature delivery. In addition, anxiety during pregnancy can even have an effect on the infant that can later develop behavioral and emotional issues.
Anxiety Medications during Pregnancy
Antidepressants such as SSRIs and benzodiazepines are often prescribed for anxiety disorders and have been proven to reduce symptoms.
However, there is not clear evidence on the safety of these medications during pregnancy. It’s better to stay on the safe side and seek alternative – non-medicated treatments for anxiety during pregnancy.
Alternative Treatments for Anxiety During Pregnancy
Despite the severity of anxiety, medication is not the only solution for treatment. The best start to treating anxiety during pregnancy is to speak with your doctor or psychiatrist about your thoughts to help determine the type of therapy and counseling you should receive to help you during this time. There are other treatment options and techniques available to you that not only will curb your anxiety but will help your pregnancy as well.
- Get more sleep
- Nourish your body
- Stay active
- Educate yourself
- Have a support system
- Stay positive
- Seek Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Lack of sleep has been recognized to be a major contributor to anxiety. It’s important to get at least seven to eight hours of restful, uninterrupted sleep every night. If you struggle with relaxing or going to sleep, try these easy sleep techniques. If your sleep continues to elude you, speak with your doctor about your options for sleep aids to help you get that good night’s rest.
Eating whole, fresh foods is beneficial not just for you, but for the baby as well. In fact, there are certain foods that help curb anxiety and improve your mental health and physical well-being. Staying away from alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fried and processed foods are a must when it comes to eating right. Instead, opt for fruits, leafy greens, omega-3 rich foods and whole grains to help keep your mind, body and baby healthy.
A quick 10-minute walk or even jamming out to your favorite music for a few minutes can release endorphins, a hormone that can vastly improve your mood and decrease muscle tension. Physical activity is critical for not only physical, but mental health as well and just a few minutes a day can help decrease your risk of anxiety. As an added benefit, staying fit and maintaining a healthy body during pregnancy can help contribute to an easier delivery.
Knowledge is power, and this is especially true when it comes to anxiety. Getting to know anxiety from the inside-out can be critical in recognizing when your worrisome thoughts are too much and in help you and your doctor seek proper treatment for your anxiety.
It’s not just anxiety that you should read up on, but picking up books on parenting or visiting online forums can help you feel prepared for your incoming bundle of joy.
During this joyous time in your life, there will be many people stepping up to be part of the moment. Embrace those people and look to them as individuals you can lean on and talk to about your worries and woes. Teaming up with experienced parents or joining an online community can also give you confidence in knowing that you have a knowledgeable source readily available to you. In addition, connecting with your loved ones, friends or partner during this time can help build and fortify your relationships.
Sometimes we are our worst enemy and this is especially true when we gravitate toward pregnant horror stories and divulge in numerous ‘what if’ scenarios. The best thing to do is to avoid this mindset and to avoid this type of content. The more you immerse yourself, the more negative you will become. Instead work on arming yourself with knowledge and staying positive to prepare yourself for the baby.
Your doctor may suggest CBT to help with your anxiety. Research has established cognitive-behavioral therapy as the most effective for anxiety disorders. Seeking therapy can help subside your anxiety and can even build improvements that last postpartum.
Anxiety during pregnancy can be fairly normal, but can develop into a severe anxiety disorder when your obsessive and excessive thoughts begin to affect your day-to-day activities and ability to function. When racing thoughts and your worry begins to affect your heart rate, ability to sleep, your happiness and appetite, it’s time to seek therapy by speaking to your doctor or a psychiatrist about treatment options available for you. Anxiety that is left unattended during pregnancy can increase the risk of preterm delivery, the development of postpartum depression and anxiety and can even effect your baby’s emotional and behavioral development. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the best alternative treatment option in place of medications for anxiety, pair this with a healthy diet, exercise, sleep and positive thinking and you’ll be on the path for a safe, happy and healthy pregnancy.