Being responsible for the health and well-being of an unborn child is no easy task. As such, expectant mothers tend to worry about the following aspects of life during a pregnancy:1
• Pregnancy symptoms and their meanings
• Progress of the baby’s development
• Relationship with a partner
• Monetary issues
Given that there are hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, emotions tend to go haywire and make pregnant women more vulnerable to anxiety. First-time mothers typically feel overwhelmed, scared or uneasy because of this life-changing event.2
Prevalence of Anxiety Disorders During Pregnancy
Anxiety disorders are actually common among pregnant women. A 2009 poll conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) found that around 52 percent of pregnant women experienced increased anxiety or depression.3
There are certain factors that pregnant women should watch out for that could increase their risk for an anxiety disorder, such as:4
✓ A previous diagnosis of an anxiety disorder
✓ Experiences of anxiety during a past pregnancy
✓ Previous pregnancy loss
✓ Fertility struggles
✓ Pregnancy with complications or bed rest
✓ Stress at home or work
Warning Signs of Anxiety Disorders in Pregnant Women
Believe it or not, anxiety is considered a sign of a pregnancy, especially during the first trimester.5 Although it’s normal to worry about certain events during a pregnancy, it can become a serious problem when a woman finds it difficult to control her thoughts or feels miserable or depressed.
These actually are the first signs of an anxiety disorder, along with other symptoms like:6
|Feeling nervous, anxious or on the edge most of the time||Racing heartbeat|
|Inability to stop or control anxious thoughts||Rapid breathing|
|Worrying over a range of different things||Dizziness|
|Difficulty relaxing||Excessive sweating|
|Restlessness||Muscle tension, pain or trembling|
|Irritability and short-temperedness||Numbing or tingling sensation in your fingers, toes or lips|
|Feeling afraid or thinking that bad things will occur|
Some women may experience panic attacks when these aforementioned symptoms arise quickly and intensely, but they tend to get better in 10 minutes or so.7
How Anxiety Disorders Could Affect a Mother and Her Child
Consulting a psychiatrist or mental professional as soon as these first indicators of anxiety disorders appear is important, because they can have adverse effects, such as:8
|Risks for the Mother||Risks for the Child|
• Low birthweight
• Premature birth before 37 weeks
• Low APGAR score, a test performed one and five minutes9 after birth to check a newborn’s health
• Poor adaptation to life outside the womb, such as development of respiratory distress and jitteriness
Banish Your Feelings of Anxiety With the Proper Mentality
Pregnant women can take measures that will help in alleviating their anxiety, even without taking anti-anxiety medications that may cause negative side effects.
The very first step that a pregnant woman should take if she experiences panic attacks is to relax and calm down. Although some may say this is easier said than done, anxious women can try practicing the following techniques suggested by Morag Martindale in BabyCentre:10
• Breathing deeply and slowly: This can help lessen symptoms of both panic and anxiety. As you breathe in, count slowly from 1 to 3, and do the same once you breathe out. It’s also helpful if you breathe into your stomach instead of the chest, so the belly moves with each breath. Closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing could also be helpful, as suggested by the NHS.11
• Focusing your attention to a specific object: Since this could be difficult for some people, this should only be done if the woman is capable of doing it despite suffering an attack. Examples of items you can focus on include a clock and its ticking hand or the melodies of a soothing song.
• Visualizing a “happy place”: This involves imagining a peaceful, beautiful and calm place where you are surrounded by loved ones. Some people may find this easier to do when there is no panic attack.
• Avoid fighting it: Counteracting these feelings could actually worsen the situation. If you’re experiencing an attack, try to remember that there is no imminent danger and that the attack will soon be over. Make it a point to positively reassure yourself that “you are OK” until the attacks subside.
Another effective way to potentially relieve anxious feelings is by practicing the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). This is an energy psychology tool that can assist in reconfiguring your body’s reactions to everyday stress and help reduce your chances of being affected with negative health effects.
The principle behind EFT is actually similar to that of acupuncture’s — a vital energy moves through your body via invisible passageways called meridians. When you practice EFT, use your fingers to tap certain energy meridian points in your body, and at the same time, speak to yourself using verbal affirmations. The good news is, you can practice EFT alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Your Stress Levels
Don’t forget to incorporate these potentially stress-busting practices into your lifestyle as well:12
• Getting enough sleep: Studies have shown that lack of sleep could trigger anxiety symptoms, so try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
• Eating whole and fresh food: A diet composed of fresh and organically grown fruits and vegetables, high-quality and grass-fed protein and healthy fats benefits both your mental and physical health. Plus, a healthy diet is also known to help boost the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
• Exercising: Apart from enhancing your mood and potentially lessening the risk of anxiety, getting a good workout while you’re pregnant could also improve sleep and decrease aches and pains. Exercising could even help you prepare for birth since it assists in strengthening muscles and building endurance.13
Some of the best exercises for pregnant women include walking, aerobics, yoga, stretching and even weight training. Make sure you consult with a physician before doing any of these exercises.14
• Building a support system: Isolating yourself because you have an anxiety disorder can exacerbate the symptoms.15 Spend time with friends, especially those who have anxiety disorders, or seek the advice of experienced parents. You should also consider joining support groups, whether in person or online, so you can share your experiences with people who feel the same way you do.
• Scheduling relaxing activities during the day: Making time for activities such as regular meditation or acupuncture can help alleviate anxious feelings. Other examples of relaxing practices you should try include yoga, listening to soothing music or having a massage.