5 Min Read

Anxiety & Pregnancy: How to Cope

Heather Lyons, Ph.D.

From the minute your home pregnancy test indicates a positive result, you’re bound to worry about all sorts of things. How will you survive morning sickness — and contractions? Is it normal for the baby to do this or that at this time? Are you ready for the lifestyle changes that come with having a child? Will you be a good parent? And most importantly, will the baby develop normally and be born healthy?

Worrying during pregnancy, and even feeling a bit anxious from time-to-time is perfectly normal. One in ten pregnant women in the United States suffers from anxiety while expecting. When your anxiety symptoms start to interfere with your daily life, though, you may have a more severe anxiety disorder.

anxiety and pregnancy

Anxiety Disorder vs. Normal Worrying

Anxiety disorder in pregnant women looks a lot like it does in people who aren’t expecting. On top of the normal hormone changes and physical health concerns that come with pregnancy, you may experience additional mental, emotional, and physical symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Feelings of anxiety all or most of the time
  • Inability to control your anxiety
  • Being on-edge or angry
  • Feeling irritation at little things
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Intense fear and excessive worry
  • Losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed
  • Scary or upsetting thoughts or nightmares
  • Muscle tension

Although there are similarities with every pregnancy, every woman’s experience is unique. It’s the same way with anxiety during pregnancy. A pregnant woman suffering from an anxiety disorder may feel one, several, or all of these symptoms in varying levels of severity.

Your symptoms of anxiety may also lead to panic attacks. A panic attack can be scary because it may come on without warning and may last for several minutes. During a panic attack, pregnant women may experience:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • A feeling of dread or fear of dying
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shaky or tingling sensations in your limbs

There are also pregnancy-specific anxiety symptoms. Women may have a specific phobia, a debilitating or irrational fear, of certain pregnancy-related events, including a phobia of actual childbirth called tokophobia. Some may have such a phobia of needles that they avoid necessary blood tests or treatments during pregnancy. Extreme fear and phobias like these are serious medical conditions that require treatment.

Who’s at risk?

Anyone can develop excessive stress and symptoms of anxiety during pregnancy, but certain women may be more susceptible. Risk factors for developing anxiety disorder during pregnancy include:

  • A personal or family history of any type of anxiety disorder or panic disorder
  • An individual or family history of major depression
  • Experiencing a traumatic event or existing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Long-term medical conditions
  • Previous miscarriages or difficult births
  • Difficulty conceiving
  • A high-risk pregnancy
  • Giving birth to multiple babies
  • Using illicit drugs
  • An unplanned pregnancy
  • Relationship problems with partner or family members
  • Financial or workplace difficulties

Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean you will experience excessive anxiety during your pregnancy or develop any type of anxiety disorder.

Will my anxiety disorder affect my baby?

Anxiety disorders can be difficult for anyone, but especially so for pregnant women who are already dealing with emotional side effects from fluctuating hormone levels and the added discomforts of their body’s physical changes. Additionally, there’s always a risk that any type of anxiety can affect pregnancy, childbirth, and the baby.

Severe anxiety symptoms are associated with preeclampsia, premature birth, and low birth weight. These symptoms may increase your child’s chances of eventually developing emotional or behavioral challenges. Plus, research has shown that anxiety disorder or depression during pregnancy may put you at high risk for postpartum depression.

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Taking Care of Yourself

Researchers have only studied anxiety disorder during pregnancy for about the last decade or so. However, the medical community has offered several ways to avoid the potential risks to you and your baby — including lifestyle changes you can put into motion as early as your first trimester.

Eat fresh, whole foods. It’s no secret that processed, sugary, or fast foods aren’t great for your physical health. They’re also not great for your mental health. For optimum health during (and after) your pregnancy, shop the perimeter of your grocery store, opting for fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.

Avoid stimulants. Although your daily caramel macchiato feels like an obsession outside of your control, avoiding caffeine during your pregnancy can minimize symptoms of anxiety. It goes without saying that the consequences of smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy are terrible for you and your baby, but they can also make your anxiety disorder worse.

Rest and relax. Chances are that once the baby arrives, your sleep patterns will be turned upside-down, at least for a short time. That’s one reason it’s crucial to get as much sleep as possible during your pregnancy. Adequate sleep and rest can also combat the sleep-related symptoms of anxiety, such as restlessness, fatigue, and insomnia. Learning and practicing relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation and learning to take full, deep breaths will also provide some well-deserved peace.

Stay active. When you’re not resting, though, try to fit in regular exercise. Taking the stairs instead of an elevator or walking through the park and taking in the beauty of your surroundings will do wonders for your state of mind and physical comfort.

Professional help is imperative

Most women will schedule regular appointments with obstetricians/gynecologists (OB/GYNs) reasonably early on to confirm the results of a pregnancy test. OB/GYNs help pregnant patients manage their health and that of their developing fetus through regular checkups, ultrasound screenings, blood tests, urine tests, and appropriate medication such as prenatal vitamins.

OB/GYNs aren’t the only healthcare providers you should consider, though, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder. If you share your concerns with your OB/GYN or primary health care provider, they will most likely recommend that you seek additional help from a mental health professional.

Typically, treating symptoms of anxiety disorders includes a combination of psychotherapy and medication. A good therapist will work with your other healthcare providers to ensure that any medication, potentially including antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication, is prescribed in an appropriate dose and frequency that is safe for pregnant women. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be incredibly helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms during pregnancy, as well as relieving usual pregnancy-related worries or concerns. 

Don’t wait. Find a great therapist today.

Pregnancy should be an enjoyable, beautiful experience, and therapy can help make it so. If you’re a pregnant woman who’s experiencing anxiety, depression, apprehension, or other mental or emotional distress, schedule an initial appointment with a therapist, counselor, psychologist, or other qualified professional easily using WithTherapy’s innovative and user-friendly tool.

Typical online therapist listings are overwhelming, seemingly endless, and severely lacking in the details you want when looking for a mental health professional. WithTherapy is a matchmaker service that uses science to pair you with a personalized shortlist of therapists.

You’ll start by finding therapists who are available when and where you are. Then you’ll be able to narrow down your list with preferences like what you think would be helpful for your treatment—for example, someone who specializes or has experience counseling pregnant women and new mothers. With Therapy will also take into consideration demographic considerations like the race, gender, or sexual orientation of your preferred therapist.

Best of all, once you’ve found your ideal therapist, you can schedule an appointment immediately, directly through the With Therapy website. No additional URLs or phone calls are necessary.

If you’re ready to address your pregnancy-related anxiety disorder symptoms, check out WithTherapy to start a healthy, productive relationship with one of the best therapists in New York City today.

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