You've probably heard that your feelings can seem a little out of control when you're pregnant. And pregnancy can indeed bring with it a rollercoaster of emotions. But there's a difference between the normal concern and worry that comes with expecting and experiencing challenges with depression or anxiety during pregnancy.
Learning how to recognize the signs that you're struggling with anxiety during pregnancy is the key to getting the help you need.
Is it "normal" to be anxious when you're pregnant?
Pregnancy can cause some weird things to happen that seem completely out of what you might consider "normal" for yourself. You may find yourself: wanting to drink spaghetti sauce straight out of the jar because it tastes so good, fighting acne like a teenager, and crying over the tractor commercial that shows the cute little family on their farm.
Things like that can happen when you're pregnant.
And it's normal to experience some worry and anxiety when you're pregnant. After all, you have a lot going on in your life. You may feel concerned about keeping yourself and your little one healthy. You may be worried about what the birth experience is going to be like and if it will follow your plans.
Or you may have experienced the devastating loss of a child in the past that causes you to feel more anxious about this pregnancy. And you may have any number of others situations in your life such as financial or relational strain that can cause anxiety while you're pregnant as well.
Some level of anxiety is part of being alive and facing the daily challenges that exist in life. But that doesn't mean all levels of anxiety are a normal part of pregnancy.
How to know when your anxiety is not just a "normal" part of pregnancy
Yes, emotions can cause you to feel like you're on a bit of a rollercoaster during pregnancy. But if your anxiety is interfering with your daily activities, it's time to talk to your doctor or a therapist.
Other signs and red flags that you are struggling with anxiety and not just normal pregnancy emotions include:
Inability to concentrate on your daily tasks
Feelings of fear and panic
Intrusive, obsessive, or troubling thoughts
Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
It's important to note that you may experience some of these physical symptoms as part of pregnancy. For example, shortness of breath and muscle tension can happen as your baby grows and takes up more room. But if you're experiencing these symptoms along with one or more of the others, it can be a sign you're struggling with anxiety.
What causes anxiety during pregnancy?
There is no clear, one-size-fits-all answer to this question. As mentioned above, anxiety during pregnancy can be caused by unrelated situations in your life. Or, you may have increased anxiety during pregnancy after a miscarriage or the loss of a child.
And you may experience anxiety without being able to pinpoint where the feelings and concerns are coming from. Researchers remain unclear of a specific cause but believe for some people it can be related to health concerns. If you have a history of anxiety or depression in your past or family history, you may be more likely to experience challenges with your perinatal mental health. But that's not always the case.
The important thing is taking the steps to get help when you need it, even if you're not sure why you feel the way you do.
How to manage anxiety when you're pregnant
There are two parts to how you can manage anxiety during pregnancy (or after). The first is through home remedies and DIY strategies. There are many things you can do during pregnancy to help alleviate some of your anxiety.
Some of these options include:
Practicing deep breathing and/or meditation. This can help you alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety while also regaining control of your thoughts. And a bonus is that these are great skills to develop before being in labor.
Connect with your support system. Talking to others in your life can be a great way to handle anxiety and not feel so alone in what you're experiencing. If you don't have close family or friends that you can chat to about your feelings and concerns, join an online pregnancy forum. These can be great places to connect with others going through the same things as you at the same time.
Take care of your physical health. Physical activity and eating healthy foods are good for your mental health even when you aren't pregnant. Make sure you're eating a balanced diet and get a little activity in, even if it's just going for a short walk.
Do things that you enjoy. Find activities and hobbies that you enjoy and do them. This could be journaling, listening to music, painting, reading, or any number of other activities. Spending time doing things you love can help shift your mind away from the things that you feel anxious about.
The second part of managing anxiety during pregnancy is knowing when to get outside help.
When to get help for your anxiety during pregnancy
If you feel like you're struggling with anxiety, it's OK to get help at any time. You don't have to allow your anxiety to reach a certain level before reaching out for help from a mental health professional.
Therapists, especially those who specialize in perinatal mental health, can help you work through all of the confusing feelings that you may experience during pregnancy. You don't have to wait to feel like you have a "problem" before scheduling an appointment to talk with someone.
We have therapists at The NEST who specialize in perinatal mental health including everything from infertility to handling difficult emotions postpartum. To make it as easy as possible for you, we have a baby-welcoming and family-friendly environment located in Stillwater MN. We also provide telehealth therapy through phone or video if you’re unable to attend in-person appointments or are located outside of the Twin Cities area.
Remember that just because emotions can be a little harder to handle during pregnancy doesn't mean that all of the anxiety and concern you're experiencing is normal. If you're struggling, don't hesitate to reach out for help.