We all know that pregnancy is considered a happy time, full of joy and anticipation. Pregnant women are expected to glow, and be overcome with (happy) emotion when thinking or talking about their new addition. For some women, this is their rose colored reality, and for others, it's a bit more complicated than that.
For women that have a history of dealing with anxiety disorders or depression, pregnancy can present a predicament that women who have never struggled with these issues will face. How does a woman handle anxiety and depression while pregnant? What can she do to help center herself if she experiences the same unsettling panic that she did before pregnancy? What about depression? What kinds of things can help to lift the familiar fog that settles onto the shoulders of a pregnant woman?
You should also know that pregnancy might actually relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression, rather than worsen them. So if some one is concerned about this and they're not pregnant yet, please know that the hormonal shifts pregnant women experience during pregnancy can actually work in their favor and create a more calm and serene woman. The anxiety I felt for years melted away during both of my pregnancies, and did the same for friends of mine.
My hope is that this article will help you to weather any anxiety or depression you might face as you embark on what is truly an amazing journey into motherhood. Here are some things you can try, and why they might be of help:
14 Rest Your Brain With Reading
Find yourself in an endless loop of anxiety and worry? Reading can help your mind to focus it's anxious energy on something else entirely while immersing you in a completely different world. Make sure that what you're reading isn't adding to your anxiety- a light and funny beach read is a great way to lift the concerns that plague you.
After you've finished reading for an hour or so, I'm willing to bet you'll feel better after, and a little further from your worries. During my final weeks of my first pregnancy I devoured a series of novels that were set at beach houses, and it was a no-fail way for me to escape the worry I felt about the upcoming labor and birth of my first child. It doesn't matter what it is really, as long as it brings you a sense of peace and allows your brain to take a break from reality for a little while. Build reading time into your daily schedule, and watch how much relief you get by taking the time to do so.
13 Walk Off Those Worries
It goes without saying that if you're pregnant, you'll need to clear any exercise with your doctor. However, this one is an effective way to get those endorphins pumping while leaving your worries in the dust behind you. I'm not saying you need to take on an intense and grueling work out by any means, we all know that during pregnancy the last thing we want to do is sweat more than we already are just by sitting.
A simple walk outside, at a pace that feels comfortable to you can be an effective and powerful way to lift your mood and reset your mind.
Simply being outside in nature can do wonders to realign your mindset to things more worthy of your time than worry. You might not feel like taking a walk, and that is perfectly okay too- grabbing a chair and sitting in your back yard can often lift your spirits too.
Try and focus on the birds chirping, the blue sky, and feeling the warmth of the sun resting on your shoulders. Closing your eyes, and breathing deeply while outside is like an instant dose of the feel good medicine that your body is craving- not to mention the Vitamin D that your body benefits so much from!
12 Let Yourself Google- To An Extent
So this one might sound counter productive, because Googling about your worries during pregnancy can often make them worse- but the real reason you're probably worrying is not because of the likelihood that something might happen- but because pregnancy is a time that you are not in complete control of your own body and that can be incredible disarming. So researching whatever it is your mind is worried about, and coming up with a game plan in the unlikely event is DOES happen can actually feel empowering, and might put your mind at ease.
Worried about pre-term labor? Find the names and numbers of everyone you might need to contact in the event that it happens and write them down. Letting your family know of your plans or worries can also help to take it off of your shoulders and allow your mind to set the fear aside. If you find that the more you research, the more you worry, then STOP. This is not the time to find new things to worry about. Use the internet as a tool to help you calm yourself, and if it's not doing that, step away from it for awhile.
11 Talk To Your Doctor About Medication
If you find that your anxiety or depression is intruding on your ability to live life normally, then it's worth mentioning to your doctor. There are medications that have been found to be considered safe during pregnancy, and they can help you to cope. White knuckling your life during what should be a time of joy and excitement is not necessary. It is not a sign of weakness or failure to ask for something more substantial to help yourself get through a difficult time.
All medications come with risks and benefits and it is important to address both of these with your physician. If you had success with a medication for anxiety or depression prior to your pregnancy, you should mention this to your obstetrician. There might be an equivalent medication that is safe to take during pregnancy that he or she can prescribe.
Above all else, even if you decide that medication is not for you at this time, your doctor might offer some other natural remedies for you to try that you might feel more comfortable with. Never try a natural remedy for anxiety or depression (or anything else) during pregnancy without asking your doctor first as many of these can cause adverse reactions for you and your baby. Natural does not always mean safe.
10 Find A Hobby
Learning something new can give your mind something to focus on that is productive and inspiring. Maybe you have always wanted to learn to paint on canvas, or refinish antique furniture. Now is the time to finally learn to crochet or knit (fuzzy baby hats, anyone?), and find something that makes your heart happy and your mind relax. When your brain is actively trying to learn a new skill, it has no room for the negative thoughts that zapped your energy. It's time to put all of those brain cells to use in a new and beneficial way.
Sometimes so much of your energy is focused on preparing for the baby that you can get lost in the shuffle. It is okay to think about yourself during this time for a little while and remember what brings you the most joy. Do you feel most fulfilled giving back to others? Find a way to make a difference for someone else, and watch as you find that you are less concerned with yourself and the anxiety and depression that once filled your time. Paying it forward in some small way can prove to be a great way to lift your mood, while you life the spirits of someone else in need.
9 Prayer And Meditation
If you believe in a higher power, chances are you already have a practice in place that brings you peace and comfort during times of distress. Not only does slowing down and reaching out create an inner calm that cannot be argued, but it can also increase the amount of oxygen you are receiving and lower your blood pressure. Maintaining a sense of peace and calm is beneficial to your physical body as well as your spirit.
During both of my pregnancies, my time spent in prayer provided me with the peace and comfort I desperately needed to soothe my anxious mind that worried constantly about the health of my unborn child. My faith grew stronger during these moments of uncertainty and fear, and after it was all said and done, I was grateful for the chance to strengthen my faith.
Perhaps you can find a quiet corner of your home or backyard that feels peaceful to you. You can put a comfortable chair with some books or scriptures that speak to your heart during times of trouble in the space, along with anything else that might create a serene environment for you. I'm willing to bet that you begin to look forward to your time in that space and walk away recharged and ready to take on the day with a new perspective.
8 Get Away From It All
While this might not be an option for every day life, the benefits of taking a short trip away can overflow on to the days that you're stuck at home or work. A change of scenery is sometimes all it takes to reset your mind on to what really matters and give you the boost you need to feel lighter. A trip to the mountains, ocean, or a lake can invigorate your mind, body, and spirit.
It doesn't need to be a long trip, sometimes a day away might be all that's necessary to do the trick. I found that if I could take a day to get to the beach and sink my toes into warm sand, I was instantly renewed and it followed me back home to every day life. Even a trip to a local park can be relaxing. Bring a blanket and a picnic lunch and allow yourself to separate from the burdens of a regular schedule.
7 Time With Friends
Sometimes a few hours with a trusted friend is as good as a therapy session. The opportunity to sit down and talk about anything and everything can be calming and soothing in ways that you can't really measure.
If you're feeling as though you could use some girlfriend therapy, don't hesitate to reach out to one and plan a few hours to spend together. Sometimes anxiety and depression can feel isolating, and can make you feel as though no one else could possibly understand what you're experiencing. This isn't true at all.
Everyone knows what it feels like to be lonely, sad, depressed, or worried about something. It is part of the human experience. We've all been there, and we can all empathize. The truth is, we are stronger together than we are apart, and we can use the hard times we have experienced ourselves to help others.
The hard times are not useless if we allow others to benefit from what we have learned as we have gone through them ourselves. Don't feel as though you are a bother to a friend by reaching out for support. Chances are, she's more than willing to walk with you through your troubles, and it will make her feel great to be able to use her own experience to help you.
6 Talk Therapy
When friends and family aren't cutting it, it might be time to give a professional a chance to help. Speaking with a therapist who is experienced in handling prenatal anxiety and depression can be extremely helpful.
Again, this is not something to be ashamed of or to shy away from. We can all benefit from having someone be a listening ear. A trained ear is even better, and can provide you with a different way to look at the feelings you are experiencing.
A therapist can give you a metaphorical "tool kit" to draw from during the moments you feel helpless in dealing with your anxiety or depression. Nothing is a surprise to them, and I can guarantee you won't be the first person they speak with who feels the way you do.
Your insurance might even cover sessions with a therapist, and it is worth looking into. Therapy can be extremely helpful, and is more than just talking with someone. Often times they have specific tools they utilize to help your mind shift it's thinking, such as EMDR, a tool that can reduce anxiety effectively without medication. You can also ask your doctor for his or her recommendation of a therapist.
5 Diet Changes
You might be surprised to learn just how much your diet can affect your mental health. Foods like chocolate, coffee, and sugar can all increase anxiety and racing thoughts.
Refined carbohydrates and artificial sugars can also add to feelings of depression, as can trans fats and processed foods. None of these foods are recommended in large amounts (if at all) during pregnancy, but if you're noticing a pattern of mood swings after meals, you might want to reflect about what you've eaten during the meal or two before.
A pregnancy diet should be rich in lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and leafy greens. While I know that none of these might sound appealing when all you're craving is a BLT with a side of peanut butter cups, if you're feeling low and wondering why, it's worth taking a look at your dietary habits to see if improvement in those might result in an improvement in your anxiety and depression.
4 Let Others In
It's hard to be vulnerable. It's difficult at best to let others know that even if you seem positively glowing and full of life on the outside, inwardly you're struggling. There is a freedom in honesty, however, that is worth every clammy palmed moment of opening up to someone worthy of your trust.
I have found time after time that when I have allowed others to see my struggles, that instead of shrinking away in disbelief or shame, they have ran toward me with open arms that made me sigh in relief.
Life is not meant to be done alone. And so often, we believe the lie that it is- and that no one else will understand. The truth is, is that allowing others to hear your truth will enable you to release your grip on the fear and depression you've been clinging to without knowing it.
If you can, find one or two people that you can be vulnerable with, and be honest with them about your fears and the days that feel more like you're enduring rather than living. I bet that after you've shared your pain with another set of shoulders, it won't feel so heavy upon yours any more.
3 Write It Down
I know this is so very "Dear Diary" of me, but hear me out.
Writing can help you to process whatever it is that's going on in your head. Sometimes we don't even know what is causing the anxiety or sadness, and it all just feels like a jumbled mess in the space between our ears. Writing it down helps to untangle the mess and allows you to see the problems or worries in an organized way. It might even bring out issues that you hadn't known were been hiding in your head until you put it down on paper.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the thoughts, feelings, and fears that are bouncing around in your head every day, try it. Go and buy a cute journal (I'm not judging if you secretly yearn for the neon Lisa Frank one with the Koala, we all loved that one) and begin writing it all out, in whatever format works for you.
If writing full sentences seems too time consuming, then bullet point and list it out- do whatever you need to help you process the feelings and set them down. You might just feel more relaxed after placing everything somewhere and walking away from it.
2 Get Out Of Your Head
If you're in the middle of the swirling vortex of a panic attack, try this grounding technique to help you get out of it:
- Locate 5 Things you can see- whether it's a bird, a plate, a window- just find 5 things that you can see
- Find 4 things you can touch- maybe you can find a pet, a soft blanket, the carpet- think of 4 things you can touch and imagine how they feel (or actually touch them).
- Find 3 things you can hear around you- these need to be external, so listen for a bird chirping, bees buzzing, or a fan whirring nearby.
- Find 2 things to smell- if you are outside, perhaps you can find some flowers, and if you are indoors maybe you can find some soap or perfume.
- Find 1 thing you can taste- by now you are grounded and aware of what exists outside of the panic in your mind, find one thing you can taste and relax while focusing on the flavor.
1 Have Your Thyroid Tested
This one might be last, but certainly not least. Before trying everything else on this list, please make sure that you have had blood tests to check your thyroid, along with anything else your doctor suspects could cause your anxiety and depression.
Your thyroid gland can act differently during pregnancy, and has a direct effect on your entire endocrine system, which in turn affects your mental state. It can cause anxiety, depression, or both if it is not in the normal range of hormones.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland located low on the front of your neck. The thyroid excretes hormones that control your metabolism amongst other things. When it is low functioning, it is called Hypothyroidism, and when it is high functioning, it is called Hyperthyroidism.
During pregnancy your thyroid may have problems regulating the release of hormones, causing shifts in your energy levels and mood. Sometimes your body will go between a low and high functioning thyroid during pregnancy and after birth as well, as your body works to regain balance. It is important that your doctor monitor your thyroid function during pregnancy and after to ensure that you're within normal range.
Hopefully this list helps to give you a starting point so that you can have the happiest and healthiest pregnancy possible. You can do this- one day at a time!