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7 simple steps to overcoming pregnancy anxiety
“Shouldn’t I just feel happy now I’m pregnant?” “What’s wrong with me? Am I a bad mum?”
Twelve years ago, I found myself sinking into a cycle of anxiety and guilt when I found out I was pregnant again. It was a massive shock as having another baby was something I had wanted. The experience of spiralling negative thoughts and low mood felt frightening and lonely.
But I wasn’t alone. Antenatal anxiety is far more common than people think.
Recent reports estimate at least 1 in 5 women suffer with symptoms of anxiety and depression during pregnancy. The causes can vary, but a history of anxiety, previous birth trauma and challenging life circumstances greatly increase the risk of anxiety during this time. It’s great that there’s growing awareness of postnatal depression, but there’s still a lack of understanding and awareness about anxiety during pregnancy. This is despite anxiety issues increasing risks of birth complications and post-natal depression.
It is normal to feel both excitement and some fear about the uncertainty of birth and all the life changes a baby brings. However, when stress and fears start to get in the way of everyday activities or start escalating, it’s time to act.
You are not ‘broken’ or ‘failing’
There’s also lot of pressure to be glowing and happy when pregnant. Many of us have an expectation that we should enjoy being pregnancy. It’s no wonder, we can fear being judged or feel guilty about any mental struggles. The lingering stigma and misunderstandings around mental health issues also stop many from reaching out.
I’ve had many clients tell me they feel like they’re failing already as a mum, or they think there’s something terribly wrong with them.
If that sounds familiar, I want you to know that you are okay.
Experiencing anxiety or other mental health issues does not reflect on your ability as a mum nor on who you are as a person. Think of anxiety as a glitch in the ‘mind’s software’ which has gone into overdrive. The good news is that ‘glitch’ can be reprogrammed and updated.
From fearful to empowered
I was able to go from terrified of giving birth again to having the most empowering birth experience.
My recovery started with me opening up to my midwife. I was so relieved by how supportive and understanding she was. With her encouragement, I found a local hypnotherapist to help me learn self-calming tools, how to relax and feel ready for the birth.
How to recognise pregnancy anxiety
Most pregnancy worries are easily reassured, and don’t interfere with everyday life.
The following are signs of anxiety and the need to start taking action:
- constant worrying and feelings of dread
- spiral thinking about the health of the baby, your health and/or the birth (this includes the cycle of worrying that the anxiety is harming the baby which leads to further anxiety)
- restlessness or inability to concentrate & enjoy normal activities
- muscle tension and the inability to relax or rest
- irritability and anger
- Trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts
- Physical experiences of panic or being out of control
7 simple steps to help you feel calmer
Some of the below might seem obvious, and that’s just it! Keep it very simple.
Allow yourself to do something more than nothing each day to feel better and more empowered.
1) Tell someone and get support
It’s so important to reach out to someone you trust. Feelings of isolation greatly increase anxiety symptoms. The sooner you ask for support the sooner you can feel better.
Most cases of anxiety don’t need any medical treatment, but it’s important to reach out to your GP or midwife to make sure you are fully supported throughout your pregnancy.
If things seem to be escalating or you want more information about the support available in your area, please contact one of the following:
- PANDAS free helpline and online groups – https://pandasfoundation.org.uk/how-we-can-support-you/online-support-groups/
- Perinatal support organisation – https://www.family-action.org.uk/what-we-do/early-years/perinatal-support-services/
2) Calm the nervous system & breathe
It’s far easier to reduce overthinking when your nervous system is calmer.
Slowing down the breath and finding a rhythm helps to switch off the fight or flight response in the body. Learning breathing and other calming techniques can help you start to calm yourself more quickly, and therefore feel more in control.
You might like to close your eyes or focus on a spot ahead of you. Remember to relax the jaw and shoulders as you do this.
Before you begin, notice where the feeling is in the body, and give it a score out of 10 (with 10 being the strongest). Go through the breathing technique below and then afterwards, notice how that feeling has moved, changed, or reduced on the scale. Repeat as necessary until you feel calmer.
Take your time and keep it very gentle.
Repetition and daily practice make breathing techniques like this easier.
3) Focus on daily self-care and take one day at a time
Self-care and taking time out for yourself are important for your emotional and physical wellbeing. Not meeting our basic physical needs greatly increases the stress in the body which will amplify any anxiety thinking.
4) Using your senses to ground yourself in the ‘now’
When those feelings of anxiety start to build up, it’s easy to get carried about with negative ‘what ifs’ about the future. By focusing on what you can observe in this moment, you help to create a space between you and those thoughts.
By shifting your focus in this way, you can also remember all the things which are okay in this moment.
5) Challenge negative thoughts
It’s very common to engage in catastrophic thoughts when the nervous system is on high alert. We might know logically that we are overthinking, but the mind can become emotionally hijacked by those ideas making us feel out of control.
I recommend doing one of the calming techniques above first.
Writing down negative thoughts can help you have a more objective perspective and realise what choices you have or what you can ask for help with. Questioning and zoom out from those thoughts will help you see all the other possibilities and choices you have.
6) Empower yourself with the right knowledge and tools
Anxiety often includes worrying about things outside of our control. The more you focus on what you can manage the easier it is to get practical and accept the things you can’t.
Knowledge is power and will help you think more rationally about options and choices. Look to birth professionals, birth preparation courses and trusted websites to become more informed rather than endless scrolling on Google or social media.
Hypnobirthing is one way to really build a sense of empowerment for birth. Learning hypnobirthing tools helps you reconnect with your inner resources and release unhelpful fears. By learning how to relax deeply and navigate uncertainty, you can start to feel more in control. Check out our Confident Childbirth Practitioners who combine Cognitive Hypnotherapy with hypnobirthing and who specialise in pregnancy anxiety https://www.confidentchildbirth.co.uk/birth-preparation/
You might want to explore how a birth doula could help you as well – https://doula.org.uk
Here are two useful websites I often recommend as trustworthy as well –
7) Create a support network
Having a support network is a proven way to help boost wellness and build resilience for the postnatal period. Hearing about how other mums have overcome similar issues is extremely beneficial and reassuring.
Facebook and Netmums.com are places you can go online to search for local groups in your area or join online support forums. Pregnancy yoga classes often offer a great way to meet other mums-to-be whilst learning to balance the body.
Clare Burgess is passionate about empowering women, and helping them release from self-doubt and fears. She specialises in anxiety and confidence issues.
As well as being a Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Clare has taught hypnobirthing courses to mums-to-be and their partners for nearly 10 years. Her own experience of recovering from birth trauma to then have a wonderful home birth experience with her daughter is why she decided to leave the corporate world and become a hypnotherapist.
She is now a trainer of Confident Childbirth method to help other Cognitive Hypnotherapists use their amazing skills to support women in pregnancy and for birth.
Clare runs a private practice in Berkshire