We know that stress is bad overall, and that it can affect your fertility—but what about your pregnancy? Unfortunately, stress is always something you need to keep an eye on, even in pregnancy. And you might be feeling more stress or anxiety than normal because of the pregnancy itself, especially if your road to conception was difficult or came with its own health issues or setbacks. We chatted with Dr. Greer Kirshenbaum, neuroscientist, doula and infant and family sleep specialist, to learn more about identifying and managing stress and anxiety during your pregnancy.
What does stress during pregnancy look like?
Stress and anxiety during pregnancy can manifest differently, and everyone will be triggered by different factors, including a history of anxiety or mental health concerns, or even just everyday stressors. The abundance of information available about pregnancy and the various concerns surrounding it can also contribute to stress and anxiety. It is important to note that stress and anxiety during pregnancy can be both conscious and unconscious, meaning it’s key to develop self-awareness to effectively manage these emotions.
Some signs and symptoms of pregnancy-related stress
- Excessive worry
- Mood swings
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Changes in appetite (that aren’t nausea-related)
- Physical, anxiety-related symptoms: stomachaches, muscle tension, heart palpitations
- Obsessive negative thoughts
- Social withdrawal
- Hyper vigilance
- Panic attacks
How does stress affect pregnancy?
There are several ways that stress can affect pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes. It’s important to note that stress is part of everyday life, and many of these outcomes are related to prolonged high levels of extreme stress (which is rare)—not necessarily everyday stresses. Do what you can to manage your stress (more on that later) but know that avoiding stress completely isn’t realistic.
Chronic and extreme stress can lead to some concerning outcomes (but remember, this is not true of every day, moderate stress):
- Miscarriage: Some studies suggest that high levels of chronic stress may increase the risk of miscarriage.
- Premature birth: Chronic stress during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of preterm birth as stress hormones can trigger contractions too early.
- Low birth weight: Maternal stress during early pregnancy has been associated with a low birth weight for the baby. Stress can impact the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the developing fetus, impacting development.
- Maternal health: Experiencing stress during pregnancy can contribute to gestational hypertension or gestational diabetes.
How can you manage anxiety during waiting periods?
Waiting periods during pregnancy, such as the two-week wait and waiting for ultrasound scans or test results, can be particularly anxiety-inducing. Building connections and seeking support from individuals who have been through similar experiences can help alleviate anxiety. Support groups, friends or doulas can provide a valuable network of understanding and guidance. Connecting with others who can relate to your emotions can offer a sense of comfort and reassurance during these uncertain times.
Remember, each experience is unique, and finding what works best for you is key to fostering a healthy and positive pregnancy.
4 tips to manage stress during pregnancy:
1. Differentiate between controllable and uncontrollable factors
By acknowledging the aspects that are beyond our control, such as the process of conception, certain health issues, or external stressors, we can focus on the aspects we can influence. This approach allows individuals to surrender to uncontrollable experiences while actively engaging in stress management techniques for the controllable aspects.
2. Track and journal your mental health experience
Tracking and journaling stress levels and associated thoughts and feelings can enhance self-awareness and help identify triggers.
3. Use your body
Implementing stress management techniques in the moment that you feel anxiety can help regulate emotions. One effective technique involves imagining the sound or movement that represents your stress or anxiety and expressing it physically to discharge the energy. Full-body shaking exercises and spending time in nature can also be beneficial stress reduction practices.
4. Name it to tame it
Another helpful tool is the Name-It-to-Tame-It approach, which involves identifying and verbalizing emotions. Using resources such as the Center for Nonviolent Communication Feelings and Needs List can assist in recognizing and addressing emotional states. By acknowledging and expressing emotions, individuals can engage their cognitive brain to regulate their emotional brain.