Published on April 24th, 2020
According to a study conducted by the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 52% percent of women said they experienced increased anxiety while they were pregnant. So if you’re feeling anxious, worried all the time, or just plain panicky, we promise, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority.
By acknowledging your feelings and finding ways to cope and maintain your mental health, you’re already starting to do the best thing for yourself and your baby. From bonding with your baby with a fetal doppler to practicing mindfulness, we’ve put together our top tips for managing anxiety during pregnancy. Read on to learn more.
What Does Pregnancy Anxiety Look Like?
Anxiety can affect your day-to-day life and sense of well-being, no matter what trimester you’re in. But everyone’s anxiety can present a little differently. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you may be experiencing pregnancy anxiety:
- Uncontrollable nervousness about the future
- Restlessness & trouble calming your thoughts
- Inability to fall asleep
- Experiencing constant worry that you can’t quite shake
- Feeling an overwhelming sense of dread
- Being unable to concentrate
- Irritability or being “snappish”
- Rapid heartbeat
- Tightening in the chest
- Loss of appetite
Why Managing Anxiety During Pregnancy is So Important
Proper self-care and learning healthy ways of managing maternal anxiety isn’t just important for your mental well-being, but it’s important for your baby’s health, too. Studies show that prolonged anxiety can affect the safety of your delivery and the health of your child.
According to a report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a pregnant woman’s mental wellness is vital for both herself and her growing baby.
- Risks to babies whose mothers have untreated anxiety issues:
- Premature birth
- Low birthweight
- Potential for poor adaptation outside of the womb, including respiratory distress and jitteriness
- Low APGAR score (the score that rates a baby’s overall health immediately after delivery)
- Risks to mothers with untreated anxiety issues:
- Postpartum or postnatal depression
- Difficulty attaching to the baby
- Preterm labor
- Increased susceptibility to alcohol and drug abuse
- Lack of care for physical health
- Increased chance of C-section
Prolonged anxiety can result in overexposure to the stress hormone cortisol, which presents health risks to you and your growing baby.
Cortisol is the stress hormone that puts people into the natural “fight or flight” mode. While in this state, the body is reacting to threats and is focused on staying alive. This means sleep isn’t important, recovering from injuries isn’t important, reserving fuel for later isn’t important. With long-term anxiety and overexposure to cortisol, almost all of your body’s processes are disrupted—and growing another human inside you is a process that relies on the rest of your body operating efficiently (to say the least).
As a quick note, there’s an important distinction to be made between short-term and long-term anxiety.
Short-Term Anxiety vs. Long-Term Anxiety
Everybody deals with short-term anxiety. This is the stress you feel when you’re prepping for an important meeting, when you worry about the cake being made in time for the baby shower, or the burst of stress that happens when you’re rushing to get to a doctor’s appointment on time.
Short-term anxiety is natural and okay. According to a study conducted at the University of Zurich, short-term stress does not have a negative effect on the development of the fetus.
It’s the effects of stress and anxiety over a prolonged period of time during the pregnancy that you need to be mindful of (as mentioned above).
Tips For Managing Anxiety Early Pregnancy to Third Trimester
Dr. Marian Earls, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, writes, “When we are able to help a mother deal with her mental health, we are essentially reaching the whole family.” Here are a few anxiety management tips to ease the feelings of stress:
Talking About How You’re Feeling
Bottling up your worried thoughts and feelings will only give them more power over your emotions. The best medication you can give yourself when struggling with symptoms of anxiety is to talk about how you are feeling. If you verbalize your stress and identify the emotion, you can then talk about how to address it. Until then, your emotions can tangle together and become a ball of confusion (and anxiety). Talk to your partner, friend, doctor, or loved one about how you’re feeling. Having a listening ear can be helpful in the identification process.
Connecting with Other Moms
You might be reluctant to talk about your anxious feelings to the non-pregnant people in your life. This makes sense: Can someone who’s not pregnant really understand what you’re going through? If this is something you worry about, just know that there are many mother support groups available where you can connect with other moms like you. Plenty of pregnant women have endured anxiety in pregnancy, panic attacks, and postpartum depression, so spending time with women who understand exactly what you’re going through can be an incredible remedy for anxiety and a reminder that you’re not alone.
Making Sleep a Priority
Anxiety can wreak havoc on your sleep patterns and an exhausted mind becomes more prone to negative thought patterns. With a little prep, you can break the cycle of sleeping badly because you’re anxious, and then becoming anxious because you’ve been sleeping badly.
Here are a few helpful sleep tricks to consider from neuroscientist, Matthew Walker:
- Set a strict bedtime and wake up schedule for yourself. Every day, go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Even if you’re tired from a bad night’s rest the day before, the pattern and repetition will become an ally in healthy sleep.
- Cool down your bedroom to around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and wear socks if that makes your feet cold. Your body needs to cool down in order to enter the more restful parts of sleep. And between 60 degrees and 70 degrees has shown to be the sweet spot.
- Relax in a low light setting with no screens for at least an hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted will trick your brain into staying awake. Instead, do something quiet and relaxing, light reading a book in low ambient light.
- Avoid drinking caffeine after 1 p.m. Even if you don’t feel like caffeine affects you much, the chemicals in your body say otherwise and can prevent you from achieving deep restful sleep.
- Avoid heavy exercise a few hours before sleep. The sharp increase in body temperature can make it hard to fall asleep—not to mention exercise offers great mental stimulation, which doesn’t help calm you down for bedtime.
When you’re anxious, you may find yourself eating sporadically or not enough. And when you’re pregnant, that can lead to hypoglycemia (or low blood sugar). Often hypoglycemia can exacerbate feelings of anxiousness or panic. To help alleviate those symptoms, try scheduling healthy meals and snacks consistently throughout your day.
You may be feeling bogged down by all the uncertainties that come with pregnancy. By reminding yourself of the certainties you do have, you’ll be able to combat the weight of the unknown. Because when you’re anxious, a little certainty goes a long way with calming the symptoms of anxiety.
- Make a list of things you can’t control and another list of things you can, to let go of the things that are out of your power and focus instead on the things you can help.
- Make a list of things you’re grateful for (and if you’d like to, share this list with your loved ones).
- Find some certainty in learning more about your future child. Discover the gender of your baby as early as 8 weeks with SneakPeek’s gender prediction test. You can collect your sample from the comfort of your home and get the results back in just three days. Being able to connect on a new level can help bring some joy to this uncertain time.
Mindfulness seems to be one of those buzzwords floating around the internet and yoga studios. But it really just means settling into yourself, your inner peace, and the present moment. Anxieties are all about what could go wrong in the future. So take a breath and embrace the moment. Here are a few ways to achieve a little mindfulness in your day and soothe anxiety symptoms:
Unsure where to start? Check out our tips for meditation during pregnancy for more help on practicing mindfulness.
When it comes to dealing with anxiety, one of the best mood-boosters is exercise. Don’t take our word for it, just ask prenatal health expert, Kristina Pinto: “Exercise during pregnancy helps reduce stress, prevents perinatal depression, and alleviates anxiety. It also allows you to improve your cardiovascular health and build strength for labor, delivery, and recovery from childbirth.” While Pinto cautions against heavy-lifting, high-intensity training, hot yoga, contact sports, and trampoline workouts, there’s still plenty of ways to get your dose of exercise-endorphins.
- Prenatal yoga
- Water aerobics
- Spin classes
- Circuit training
For more perspiration inspiration, check out our guide to pregnancy workouts at home.
Bond with Your Baby
Anxiety during pregnancy can come from focusing too much on fear. Focus instead on the joy. By doing activities that make you think and connect with your baby, you can let go of the worry and embrace the love.
- Do some nesting. Work on your baby’s nursery, add to your baby shower registry, or just buy some super cute baby outfits.
- Write letters to your baby in a journal, or set up an email account for your baby. That way, you can send emails about your life and your baby’s growth for your future child to read.
- Listen to your baby’s growing heart with a fetal heart monitor, also known as a fetal doppler. SneakPeek’s FDA-approved fetal doppler lets you listen to your baby’s heart as early as 13 weeks. You can plug in your favorite pair of headphones for some personal mommy-baby time. Or you can use the built-in speakers to give you soothing background sounds as you online shop for baby clothes or write in your baby journal.
Make Time for What Feels Good
Schedule some time every week (or heck, every day!) to focus on self-care. Prioritizing your relaxation will have incredible benefits for your mind, body, and baby. Here’s what that might look like:
- Reading before bed or first thing in the morning
- Long walks after dinner
- Getting regular massages
- Keeping a daily gratitude journal
- Facials (Yup! You can get a facial when you’re pregnant so long as you don’t use electric currents, chemical peels, or laser therapies).
Knowing When to Ask for Help
This final tip speaks to the strength of moms everywhere. To the overachievers and supermoms who want to do it all, and do it all right. If you think your anxiety may be caused by an overload of tasks and to-do lists, it can be helpful to ask yourself, “Do I really need to do all of this, or can I get some help?”
Reach out to your family, friends, partner, or spouse and ask them to help take things off your plate. Can your spouse take over the grocery shopping so you can have more time at home? Can your friend come over and help you choose things for the nursery? The best moms (especially supermoms) know it’s important to delegate and ask for help.
You’ve Got This
As wonderful as it is to know you’re going to be meeting your little one soon, a lot of worry and anxiety in pregnancy can come with unknowns. But that’s okay. When you take the time to take care of yourself, you’re building a better growing environment for your baby and improving your well-being at the same time.
BBC. Pregnant and Stressed? Tips for Dealing with Anxiety During Pregnancy. https://www.bbc.co.uk/tiny-happy-people/anxiety-tips-pregnancy/zdhdcqt
The Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Pregnancy and Anxiety. https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/women/pregnancy-and-medication
Parents. Coping with Anxiety and Depression During Pregnancy. https://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-life/emotions/coping-with-anxiety-and-depression-during-pregnancy/
Patient Info. How To Cope with Anxiety During Pregnancy. https://patient.info/news-and-features/how-to-cope-with-anxiety-during-pregnancy
Tommy’s. Anxiety and Panic Attacks During Pregnancy. https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/im-pregnant/mental-wellbeing/specific-mental-health-conditions/anxiety-and-panic-attacks-pregnancy