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Anxiety During Pregnancy in the Time of COVID-19
Many expectant mothers experience some worries during pregnancy but for some women, the anxiety can feel overwhelming or crippling. “Am I doing all the right things to support this pregnancy?” “What will giving birth really be like?” “What kind of mother will I be?” Add in concerns about COVID-19 and you end up with anxiety and stress you might have no idea what to do with.
According to Postpartum Support International, 6% of pregnant women and 10% of postpartum women experience symptoms of anxiety including:
Although you might have heard of postpartum anxiety or mood disorders, you might not know that symptoms can be present at any time in the perinatal period, which includes pregnancy and up to one year postpartum. Risk factors for perinatal anxiety include a personal or family history of anxiety, previous perinatal depression or anxiety, or thyroid imbalance. A history of trauma such as prior pregnancy loss or difficult relationships with your own parents can also make anxiety during pregnancy especially complicated.
Anxiety might be experienced at the same time as depression, or some women might experience anxiety leading to panic attacks. Although panic attacks can be frightening, they are temporary and will pass. Symptoms of panic include:
The good news is that there are a variety of techniques you can use to help turn pregnancy back into an exciting experience instead of just an anxiety-provoking one. You are not alone, even when social distancing might keep you physically distanced from others.
Here are some tips for coping if you are experiencing anxiety during your pregnancy:
Build supports: Talk to someone close to you about how you are a feeling rather than bottle it up inside. For some mothers, a support system will look like friends and family members to lean on and talk with, but not everyone has people in their life who can help them. Support groups can be a great way to connect with other parents and reduce the sense of isolation that anxiety can bring. Many support groups for expectant mothers, such as those offered by Postpartum Support International, are virtual, so group members can connect with each other safely during the pandemic. Many pregnancy and birth related providers offer support groups in local communities. Social media groups can also connect you to others based on a variety of characteristics such as due date, race, or having a history of loss.
Prioritize rest: Anxiety and pregnancy can both make sleep difficult, but rest still needs to be a priority, as fatigue can worsen anxiety. Sleeping in a cool, dark room can help increase comfort. Many women find sleeping with a fan or using a sound machine helpful. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends putting electronics away at least 30 minutes before bedtime, as they stimulate your brain and make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Exercise: Physical activity allows your body to release chemicals called endorphins that increase feelings of well-being. Activity can look like going for a walk around the block, yoga, or stretching. Swimming can be a great form of exercise while pregnant because it relieves stress on the spine and can help you feel lighter at a time when you might feel anything but. Be sure to talk to your medical provider about what is an appropriate level of activity for you.
Meditation: Daily meditation has been shown to be beneficial in managing stress and increasing relaxation. Meditation includes focusing on your breath and being present in the current moment rather than allowing your mind to spiral with anxiety. Starting a meditation practice can be as simple as finding a voice that you find calming and pushing play each day. If you prefer guided meditation, apps such as Calm or Headspace offer meditations grouped by subject. Youtube and podcasts also have many free guided audio recordings. If needed, experiment with a variety of guided meditations until you find one that appeals to you. Meditation does take practice so be sure you use it consistently to see the most benefit.
Talk to a therapist: Finding a therapist who has specialized training in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can allow for a safe space to talk through your thoughts and feelings. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be helpful in managing the difficult thoughts and emotions associated with anxiety. Many therapists are now providing sessions through telehealth, so you only need a good internet connection and a quiet, confidential place to talk.
Talk to your doctor: Medical causes for anxiety and mood disorders, such as a thyroid imbalance, always need to be ruled out. You and your medical provider may also need to discuss anti-anxiety medication options based on potential benefits and risks to mother and baby. Studies have shown that mothers who experience clinically significant anxiety symptoms during pregnancy are more likely to have preterm labor and low birth weight infants, as well as other complications, including pre-eclampsia, according to the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health. Potential risk associated with unmanaged anxiety should also be considered.
Despite pregnancy amid COVID-19 social distancing, you do not have to suffer anxiety alone. Your mental health matters, and there are lots of ways you can care for yourself and your emotional well-being while pregnant.