Coping With Anxiety During Pregnancy

by: Brittany McCabe
How do you know when anxiety is just a mood and when it is a disorder? Clinical psychologist Dr. Isaura Gonzalez weighs in with her expert opinion and offers advice and strategies for dealing with anxiety during pregnancy.
pregnant woman holding belly

Yay, you are pregnant! Folding onesies, picking out the paint color for the nursery, and rubbing away on your swollen belly, blissfully dreaming of kissing your soon to be baby. What a joyous time… or is it? While some women may see a decrease in their anxiety during pregnancy, for others it will actually get worse. Pregnancy can be an anxiety-inducing nine months. The lack of control, the thoughts of the unknown, the sudden realization that EVERYTHING you do directly affects your growing baby; this can be overwhelming for some expectant mothers.

Does this sound familiar? Take a deep breath. We are going to talk about some real strategies that you can start today to help you enjoy this time because you and your baby deserve it. Before you know it, these nine months will be done and gone and you, of all people, should get that belly rubbing, daydreaming, blissful moment.

More: Can Stress Affect Your Pregnancy?

What is anxiety?

Is there a difference between a mood and a disorder? Clinical psychologist Dr. Isaura Gonzalez helps break down the differences. She say, anxiety, plain and simple, is “when you feel you don’t have control over something.” That lack of control and the unknown is what brings the anxiety on. In addition, this is usually the time where everyone loves to offer their unsolicited advice. It is no surprise then how first-time expectant mothers can feel anxious.

The feeling of needing to do everything right, listening to everyone’s advice and stories, and that if they don’t or if they get it wrong, it will impact their growing baby somehow. Their natural sense of motherhood kicks into overdrive with the realization that everything they do, think, feel, and eat has a direct impact. They become hypersensitive, preoccupied, and consumed by every thought, and the joy of pregnancy gets sucked out. For an expectant mother with anxiety, pregnancy becomes a mental burden instead of a blessing.

Dr. Gonzalez helps us to understand the difference between when anxiety is just a feeling and when it is a disorder:

Anxiety

Symptoms

       

Mood

hypersensitivity 

anxious 

     

Disorder

hypersensitivity

anxious

psychological disruption

physiological disruption

dysfunction

As shown in the chart, feeling anxious is very different from having an anxiety disorder. Having a disorder clearly affects the day-to-day thinking and feeling of the person experiencing the dysfunction. Expectant mothers experiencing anxiety disorder should speak with their OBGYN to get referrals for professional help. Dr. Gonzalez mentions that some women may be predisposed to developing anxiety and if they do not adequately handle it, then it can very well continue after pregnancy into post-partum or later in life.

Five Strategies for Dealing with Gestational Anxiety

Prenatal Yoga

Prenatal yoga can not only help you focus on your breathing, but can provide gentle stretching to relieve any muscle and joint pain from carrying around extra weight. Lastly, it helps to focus on mental strength, calming, and intentional breathing, which comes in handy during labor.

Aromatherapy

Using essential oils and activating the sense of smell can help create a calm and peaceful environment. Some expectant mothers gravitate toward certain scents, such as lavender, to help bring calmness to their mind.

Art Therapy

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is a process to freely create and explore one’s feelings, emotions, behaviors, addictions, etc. through the medium of art. For someone experiencing gestational anxiety, throwing their emotions into a specific focus can be helpful in relaxing the mind.

Therapy

We all know talking to someone unbiased is helpful. A safe place where we can unload our deepest and darkest fears is comforting in of itself. It’s a place you can breathe easily and talk freely.

Journaling

Like speaking with a therapist, a journal is a place you can freely record your thoughts, concerns, and fears without judgment. Anything minor to major you can record, as well as how those thoughts make you feel. Often when you say a thought or fear out loud or write them down, it’s enough to realize the irrational nature of it and you can move on.

More: Overcoming Back-to-Work Anxieties for New Moms

Words of Wisdom for the Anxious Mom-To-Be

Information can be helpful and harmful.

Dr. Gonzalez suggests limiting the amount of research and information you consume. Googling every little side effect, mental thought, or physical change can really lead someone down a rabbit hole. Stick to the experts, like your OBGYN and try to steer yourself away from the search bar.

Really listen to your body and not what everyone else has to say.

You have been inhabiting your body all this while. You are the expert. Tune into how you are feeling and take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt.

Take charge and ownership.

For example, take control of your schedule schedule: appointments, errands, classes, etc. Being in control gives you something to focus on.

Try to enjoy the process.

This one is obviously difficult for someone experiencing anxiety, but for many women, once they make it to the end of their pregnancy and realize everything is fine, they have missed that joyful time. Remind yourself to stop at certain moments and enjoy them. Having those moments will help send necessary hormones to the brain and calm your anxiety.

Anxiety is no fun. It can become overwhelming, all-consuming, and destructive. Do not let it preoccupy your thoughts one more day. Being pregnant is a joyous time and one that doesn’t happen all that often. Enjoy the time you have. Fold the onesies, pick the paint color, and rub your swollen belly. Before you know it, your baby will be ready to enter the world and a whole new chapter and journey will begin. Take the time you need to ease your mind, so your next preoccupations will be of kisses, hugs, and snuggles.