By Christina Smith, LMHC
When you’re expecting a child, it’s normal for parents (especially new parents) to expect some anxiety. Feeling anxious is our body and mind’s way of preparing us for a stressful event and having a baby comes with a lot of changes, which are inevitably stressful. In some cases, however, anxiety can become more severe and affect an expecting mother’s ability to function normally. In these cases, it’s important to recognize what it is, why it’s happening, and what you can do about it.
Prenatal (antepartum) anxiety and depression are otherwise identical to regular anxiety and depression, except it occurs during pregnancy. It’s important to recognize any symptoms because they can be warning signs of postpartum depression.
Symptoms of prenatal (antepartum) anxiety and depression:
- Racing thoughts
- Excessive worry
- Difficulty concentrating
- Persistent sadness
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness or guilt
- Loss of interest in activities one would usually enjoy (called anhedonia)
What causes prenatal anxiety?
Probably one of the biggest causes of anxiety during pregnancy is the massive change in the human body’s hormones. These changes can cause a shift in mood, automatically leading you to feel more anxious, even if nothing particularly stressful is happening. It’s something that soon-to-be moms cannot control or predict; but, if it is the underlying cause for anxiety, simply understanding it can help tremendously.
One of the more predictable causes, especially for first-time moms, is the overwhelming anticipation of changes that will occur when welcoming a baby. The daily life routine you once knew is now changing; finances, social life, work, and sleep schedules look totally different now. Life will not be the same anymore and the thought of that can be very intimidating. Just thinking about all of the items a new baby will need can bring on overwhelming feelings, let alone the thought of learning the infinite spectrum of parenting skills.
Not only is it an adjustment to welcome a new tiny family member, but the nine-month process of creating a new life is a challenge on its own. Expecting moms are put into a tough spot of going about their normal routine while also nurturing a new life. It really puts a whole new spin on “keep calm and carry on.”
Depression during pregnancy
It is important to note that feelings of depression are common during pregnancy. While most view pregnancy as a joyous event, it is not always rainbows and butterflies. Pregnancy takes a toll on the body and mind; it is common for women to feel down, even distant, in many ways.
Having anxiety can lead to depression, as they tend to feed into each other. Some examples of why a new parent might feel down during pregnancy may include a surprise pregnancy, confronting medical complications during pregnancy, pre-existing or new relationship issues between partners, and of course, hormone changes.
Coping with anxiety and depression during pregnancy
There are several ways to cope with both anxiety and depression during pregnancy. One of the most important things to do, especially if these feelings are intense or unbearable, is to talk to your doctor. Your doctor will understand and hopefully provide the best course of action for dealing with depression and anxiety.
Along with their professional medical guidance, doctors will often recommend speaking with a therapist who can address the underlying causes of depression and anxiety as it relates to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They can offer support and guidance throughout the process and hopefully work with you to lessen these feelings, enabling new parents to have a more positive experience.
Some other ways to cope with anxiety and depression include:
Exercise: specifically, low-intensity exercises such as walking or prenatal yoga can be very beneficial. Exercise can help take your mind off things and improve overall mood.
Relaxation techniques: meditation and deep breathing can help calm the mind and soothe physical symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many meditation platforms such as Insight Timer offer guided meditations for free; many of which are specific to pregnancy.
Getting support: family and friends are important sources of support and may help new parents cope with depression and anxiety. Although family and friends may not always understand exactly what you are going through, it is important to communicate how you’re feeling so that they can do their best to be there for you. Joining support groups designed for expectant parents can also be a great way to get the right kind of support from people who understand exactly what you’re going through.
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