Being pregnant is an understandably anxious time for anyone, especially if it’s your first baby. Add to that the obvious complications the last year has thrown at us, with lockdowns, travel restrictions and constantly changing rules at hospitals and birthing suites, it’s no wonder you’re feeling a little (or a lot) more stressed than usual.
However, there’s also no more important time to be aware of stress levels, and manage anxiety, than in pregnancy. There are potential health complications if you are under significant stress for an extended time during your pregnancy (it’s not good for either you or baby), and increased anxiety now can also lead to having post-partum mental health concerns too.
Rather than focus on the causes of stress during pregnancy (because you’re probably already pretty aware of them), I’d like to help you find effective ways of managing anxiety and reducing stress.
Identifying Stressors and Managing Anxiety in Pregnancy
1. Take care of yourself
It goes without saying, pregnancy is a time to really take care of your body, as it takes care of a very precious new life. Now, more than ever, you need to listen to what your body is telling you – get as much sleep and rest as you can, continue exercising if you feel up to it, eat as well as possible, and of course avoid alcohol or smoking. Exercise is an excellent tool for managing anxiety.
Many women question what exercise they can continue. It’s safe to stay fit and active – up to the level you were pre-pregnancy, of course, taking precautions and making adjustments as you go (see Adapting F45 during Pregnancy). If you weren’t particularly active before getting pregnant, you will still benefit from light and regular exercise. Pregnant women should aim for 20-30 minutes each day, 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking, can reduce stress and improve sleep.
2. Make time for yourself
You possibly feel busier than ever, while also having less energy than usual. Now is definitely a time to be selfish. Put your feet up, read a good book, do yoga or schedule yourself a massage – whatever it takes to get some alone time.
Massage has so many benefits for both you and baby. A little pressure in the right places can relieve many other physical and mental pressure you might be facing/ Studies show that during massage, the fetus moves around less, bringing calmness to both mother and baby. Massage in the second and third trimester also relieves stress and discomfort especially the lower back.
Did you know that journalling reduces your stress and anxiety, improves your mood and give you a greater sense of overall emotional well-being and happiness?
As journaling habits are developed long-term, benefits increase even more as you become in-tune with your health, connecting inner needs and desires. Journaling evokes mindfulness and helps you remain present while keeping perspective.
All of these benefits are so incredibly important during pregnancy. Having now had two pregnancies and recorded them both with made with love, I can honestly say being able to look back on my unique journeys is invaluable.
4. Get better sleep
It might be easier said than done, but as well as resting and sleeping as much as possible, you also want to be getting better quality sleep. In the third trimester, this gets especially hard as the pressure on your bladder often demands frequent bathroom breaks, but there are definitely steps you can take to get a better night sleep.
- Reduce your stress before bed – as above, journalling is the perfect way to do this, get all your thoughts down on paper before you hit the hay.
- Eliminate caffeine in the afternoon. You might be needing an afternoon pick me up more than ever, but cutting out tea and coffee after lunch will do wonders for your overnight sleep.
- Limit your naps to just 30 minutes throughout the day.
- Get lots of exposure to sunlight during the day (with an SPF, of course) and cut down on blue light at night.
- Sleep with a pregnancy pillow to reduce the pressures on your body, make it easier to sleep on your side and keep your hips aligned.
5. Ask for help
“It takes a village” – and this doesn’t only refer to the time after the baby is born. If you’re feeling stressed about the future, surrounding yourself with a support network of friends is an excellent tool for managing anxiety in pregnancy. If you haven’t already, you may wish to join an antenatal group – you may find people who have similar concerns to you. Accept all offers for help with chores, take whatever relief your employer can do for you prenatally, and lean on friends and family wherever possible.
Having the right kind and amount of support when you need is essential for managing anxiety in pregnancy and postpartum. If there were ever a time to ask for and accept help from friends and family, it is during your pregnancy and in the early days after the baby is born. Identify the type of support you need – if you need more help around the house, talk to your partner, consider hiring a cleaner or buying ready meals to cut down on time. If you need more emotional support, make sure you let your friends know how you are feeling.
It can be hard to let others help, but remember that you are doing the best for your baby when you are at your best. Finding ways to lighten your load will be one of your greatest tools for managing stress during your pregnancy.
6. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is simply defined as awareness of what you are experiencing as you are experiencing it, without judging yourself. Mindfulness is an excellent way to treat stress and naturally manage anxiety in pregnancy, linked to improvements in mood, depression, anxiety, sleep and self-compassion. During stressful times, mindfulness can help you calm your body and mind and appreciate the journey you are on.
- Breathe – Connect with your breath, following the inhalation/exhalation cycle without trying to control or change the breath. This may also be a great tool for you during labour – breath is a great resource to ground the body and focus the mind when feeling overwhelmed, so connect with your breath often.
- Use a Meditation app – there are many apps to guide you in mindfulness-based practices, such as Calm or Buddify, or even just listening to a Spotify Meditation playlist.
- Record it in your Journal – Journaling evokes mindfulness and helps you remain present while keeping perspective over what you are going through. Instead of getting caught up in the emotional distress you feel or the mental worry of why you are feeling that way, practice identifying the feelings you are going through, even labelling it, and writing it down. Writing down all the worries you have is a proven way of reducing your anxiety about them. Our new gratitude journal ‘note to self‘ is the perfect way to start.
I truly hope these tips will help you to manage any stress you may be feeling – save this as a bookmark to return to if ever you are feeling overwhelmed.
All the best over the next few weeks and months.