What causes anxiety during pregnancy?
A lot of changes happen in pregnancy. Some of them of these new changes are welcomed, while others can be uncomfortable and downright scary. Your body is growing a new human after all. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect the chemical balance in your brain. This can lead to an increase of existing anxiety or even onset of symptoms when you have not had them before. In addition, you may have trauma from a previous birth or unexpected complications that worry you.
Worry is normal during pregnancy especailly fear about birth, still if worry starts to interfere with your normal day to day life it could be anxiety. Some symptoms to look for are:
- Poor sleep
- Racing thoughts
- Tense muscles
- Unable to concentrate
- Excessive worry about you or your baby
Sometimes anxiety can lead to a panic attack. Panic attacks can start suddenly and progress rapidly into physical smyptoms like:
- Tightness in the chest
- Feeling of doom
- Feeling hot in the face or chest
- Rapid heartbeat
If you feel any of the above symptoms call your provider immediately. They will likely want to see you in the office to rule out something more serious.
What Can Help?
As a birth and postpartum doula I see a LOT of anxiety in pregnancy. While life seems to get increasingly stressful it becomes harder and harder to take a moment for mental health. I have personally used all of these techniques and have found them helpful with my daily anxiety and coach my clients to do the same with their pregnancy anxiety. Additionally, after baby comes you can continue to use these for better mental health for the rest of your life.
Exercise / Yoga
We have knows for a long time that exercise can lower stress hormones while increasing benificial chemicals like endorphins. Exercise is also a great way to keep your heart and lungs strong for labor. Yoga specifically is great for relaxing both the body and mind. There are plenty of great prenatal yoga videos on YouTube from beginners to advanced.
Sleep is incredibly important to mental health. A healthy amount is 8-10 hours a night. It may feel impossible when you have to pee every hour or baby is kicking you, but good sleep hygiene is paramount. So get cozy and relax!
Deep breathing has been shown to reduce anxiety by activating your parasympathetic nervous system. Thats fancy talk for the “rest-and digest” system. A great technique is 4-7-8 breathing. Here is how to do it:
- Find a quiet spot where you wont be disturbed
- Place your tounge against the back of your top teeth
- Exhale all of your breath around your tounge through your open mouth
- Close your mouth and inhale for a count of 4 through your nose
- Count to 7 while holding your breath
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8 while making a “whoosh” sound. You should feel your lungs empty
- Repeat this 4 times
You can do this as often as you like. Experts recomend two times a day. The most important part of this exercise is that you are exhaling longer then the inhale. So if you cannot do the full 4-7-8, any amount will work.
Massage is not only great for anxiety, but it can improve mood, confidence, and self-image. Deep tissue massage, Shiatsu, even Hot Stone massage are great for anxiety. Make sure your massage therapist knows that you are pregnant and has experience with prenatal massage. Some massage tables even have a cutout for your belly, making laying on your stomach a rare treat.
It is no secret that people feel better on sunny days. Sunlight cues a special area in the retna, which triggers the release of serotonin. Even if you cannot make it outside sitting by a sunny window can make a big difference. Getting sunlght can be easy on beautiful summer days, but what about the dreary winter months? Not to worry. You can purchase a light therapy box to mimic the sun giving you all the same benefits.
When your routine changes it’s easy to feel out of balance. From eating, to sleeping, to peeing its easy to fall out of your routine. Try to make use of your old structure while developing new ones. When your brain is not struggling to figure out what is coming next it is more adaptable to unexpected change.
Just like massage, accupuncture is a great way to lower stress hormones like cortisol and increase serotonin. Accupuncture can assist the nervouse system achieve balance, reducing stress and anxiety.
Journaling can be a great way to get some of those anxious thoughts out of your head and onto paper. You can write about whatever comes to mind. Write about your feelings, how your day is going, anything that comes across your mind. Once you have finished writing down your thoughts , read back over and reflect on what you have written.
Simplify your priorities. When you have too much information or too many tasks it can feel overwhelming. This can lead to more anxiety and even decision paralysis. Can you cut out a task from your day? Week? Month? Prioritizing your mental health is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby.
Speak with a Doctor
When all else fails, OR your anxiety makes it hard to function, consult your provider. Many OB/Gyn’s have a basic knowledge of perinatal mood disorders and can point you to a trusted Psychiatrist. There are anxiety medications that you can take while pregnant and although most people want to avoid medications, sometimes it becomse a necessity. I highly reccomend Move Forward Counceling who specializes in perinatal mood disorders and does both in person and telahealth appointments.
Whichever of these tips and tricks decide to do, remember to be kind to yourself. Pregnancy is a big shift for your body and mind. No one expects you to love it every waking moment. Here at Lancaster Doulas we are always available to help you navigate anxiety and your options to help reduce it. No one should suffer in silence. YOU matter and so does your mental health.