Anxiety is characterised by feelings of fear, nervousness, restlessness or unease. Although it’s natural to feel anxious in some situations, it’s not uncommon for people to experience anxiety in a range of relatively everyday scenarios. Someone with social anxiety may feel anxious when they’re in a large group, for example, while other people wouldn’t be phased in the slightest.
For many women, pregnancy can trigger or exacerbate anxiety. Of course, it’s natural to feel apprehensive about giving birth or caring for your baby when they arrive, particularly if you’re a first-time Mum. If your anxiety levels increase too much or you find that you’re regularly consumed by anxiety, however, it’s important to access help.
What causes anxiety during pregnancy?
Around 1 in 10 people experience anxiety during pregnancy but there are various different causes which may contribute to escalating feelings of fear or restlessness. You may be worried about your pregnancy, for example, fearful of giving birth or have concerns over how you’ll cope in the future. In some cases, a change in hormone levels can exacerbate anxiety, although you may not be able to identify any specific aspect of your pregnancy that you’re worried about.
In addition to this, an underlying issue with anxiety can be worsened when you’re expecting. If you have generalised anxiety disorder, for example, it wouldn’t be unusual if your symptoms were heightened throughout your pregnancy.
What does anxiety feel like?
There are multiple symptoms associated with anxiety and no two people experience the same variation. Unregulated anxiety can affect you physically, mentally and emotionally, so there are a variety of symptoms which could be attributable to a rise in anxiety levels, including:
- Unidentifiable fear
- Inability to sleep
- Lack of interest in your pregnancy
- Feeling consumed with worry
- Overthinking minor details
- Tightness in the chest
- Racing thoughts
- Difficulty relaxing
- A sense of dread
- Feeling on edge
- Difficulty concentrating
- Becoming forgetful
In addition to this, feelings of heightened anxiety can lead to panic attacks. Sometimes known as anxiety attacks, these are acute phases in which your anxiety increases to a high level. Although panic attacks do not typically last for very long, they can be very distressing. If you experience a panic attack, your symptoms may include:
- Feeling like you can’t breathe
- Tightness in your chest
- Chest pain
- Feeling shaky
- Feeling trapped
- Increased heart rate
- Fear of dying
As you can imagine, heightened anxiety and/or panic attacks can be difficult to cope with at any time. When you’re pregnant, however, an increase in anxiety can make it difficult or impossible to enjoy the journey you’re on. In fact, many women actively dislike the experience of being pregnant due to the impact it has on their anxiety levels.
Due to this, it’s essential that you seek help if you feel you are experiencing any form of excessive anxiety throughout your pregnancy. With the right interventions, you can calm your mind, ease your symptoms and begin to enjoy planning for your new arrival.
What is the treatment for anxiety in pregnancy?
If you’re concerned about your anxiety levels during your pregnancy, it’s important to talk to your midwife and/or doctor. They can help to rule out any underlying causes and help you to find the best way to manage your anxiety. If you experienced relatively high levels of anxiety prior to falling pregnant, it’s important to let your medical team know too. Even if they weren’t officially diagnosed, this information could help your doctor and midwife to provide the best level of care and support.
There is medication available to treat anxiety, which is safe to take during pregnancy. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the amount they’re impacting upon your day-to-day wellbeing, your medical team may discuss whether medication could be the right course of treatment for you.
However, there are many other ways to treat anxiety, regardless of whether it occurs during pregnancy. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and applied relaxation with a trained therapist are both highly effective treatments, for example. As these don’t hold the same risks as medication in terms of side-effects, you may prefer to try these alternative forms of treatment first. Of course, both cognitive behavioural therapy and applied relaxation can be used in conjunction with medication, if you and your medical team feel this is the best way to manage your symptoms.
Reducing anxiety with self-care
Although professional intervention can help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, there are plenty of self-care tips you can apply to help manage your symptoms too. If you have specific concerns regarding the birth, for example, you may find it helps to create a pregnancy checklist and comprehensive birth plan. Alternatively, if you’re concerned about how you’ll care for your baby, it may help to organise a support network you know you can rely on once the baby is here.
In addition to this, meditation and mindfulness can be extremely effective when it comes to managing anxiety levels. With the option to practice both mindfulness and meditation anywhere, they are useful tools to have. Whether you want to engage in formal group practice or learn how to meditate at home alone, you may find that either of these practices is enough to help you achieve a calmer state of mind.
When you’re feeling constantly anxious, your symptoms can make it tricky to practise good self-care. However, regular, gentle exercise, in accordance with your midwife’s instructions, can be a great way to boost your endorphins and alleviate stress. Similarly, avoiding caffeine and eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to nourish your body and minimise the symptoms of anxiety.
Overcoming anxiety during pregnancy
Although it’s completely natural to have worries and concerns during pregnancy, excessive anxiety should always be addressed with your doctor or midwife. By asking for help from those around you and your medical team, you can make sure your pregnancy is a stress-free and as enjoyable as possible.