Pregnancy is no walk in the park, but it should be a time of rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, an estimated 10 percent of pregnant women experience perinatal stress or anxiety. Under normal circumstances, pregnancy symptoms and hormonal changes can cause stress levels to rise. There can be little doubt that this is now exacerbated because of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures. In addition to the usual pregnancy anxiety, expectant mothers must also worry about staying safe from coronavirus infection and the risk to their unborn children. Fortunately, there are plenty of effective strategies that you can use to cope with anxiety during pregnancy. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Coronavirus Anxiety During Pregnancy
Anxiety about coronavirus infection during pregnancy is understandable because of the potential impact that maternal infections can have on fetal health. Although there is a lot that we don’t understand about COVID-19 and pregnancy, the findings so far have been encouraging. A study published in the journal ULTRASOUND in Obstetrics & Gynecology, found no evidence of increased COVID-19 vulnerability during pregnancy. The risk of complications in expectant mothers is also no higher than it is in other patients. Similar observations can be drawn from WHO data, which shows that most expectant mothers in China did not experience severe symptoms.
Steps to Fight Pregnancy Anxiety During the Lockdown
There’s no denying the fact that it’s easier to get through tough times when you have the comfort and support of loved ones and friends. Unfortunately, with the lockdown measures in place, most of us are socially isolated and even more vulnerable to anxiety disorders. This makes it even more important to adopt stress reduction and relaxation techniques that are proven to relieve anxiety. Here are some that you can try safely at home.
Meditation is not a miracle cure for anxiety or depression, but its benefits are certainly impressive. Research shows that practices like mindfulness meditation can help to lower stress levels and can be a useful tool for managing anxiety disorders, chronic stress, and clinical depression. Although you can try any form of meditation, mindfulness meditation is one of the simplest approaches. It simply involves focusing on the present moment, specifically your breathing and other senses. This helps to free your mind of all other thoughts that typically cause anxiety.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is another handy stress reduction technique to combat anxiety during pregnancy. The practice requires you to focus on your breathing as you consciously tense and relax individual muscles in your body. As with meditation, instructional videos and apps can help you get started at home. With practice, progressive muscle relaxation becomes easier to achieve and this can help not just with anxiety relief, but also with labor. Studies show clear benefits of progressive muscle relaxation for pregnant women, improving their sense of wellbeing and general health.
- Guided Imagery
Guided imagery is another technique that is commonly used in behavioral programs to treat anxiety. As the name suggests, you use a mental picture to create your own virtual vacation. You imagine yourself in a scene that you find particularly calming, such as at the beach. You then start to focus on finer details within that scene, such as the waves lapping at your feet, sand between your toes, and so on. To get started with the practice you can even use apps or videos where a narrator guides you through the imagery. It may take some effort to focus if you have intrusive thoughts, but this will get better with practice. There’s plenty of evidence to support the use of nature-based guided imagery to lower anxiety levels.
- Planners & Journals
Anxiety can cause a terrible lack of focus, making you feel all muddled. To help clear your head and restore a sense of calm, it would be a good idea to start using a planner or journal. Use it to track and put down your thoughts and feelings on paper. This allows you to organize and evaluate your thoughts in an objective manner. You can then identify worries or concerns that genuinely deserve your attention, while dismissing others. With this clarity of thought, you can also start identifying solutions for problems in a systematic manner.
- Get More Sleep
Most studies point to a link between sleep deprivation and almost all mental health ailments, including anxiety disorders and depression. Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-way street and anxiety can also worsen insomnia, leading to a vicious cycle. This makes it important to take steps to get adequate sleep as soon as you notice early warning signs of anxiety or sleep deprivation. During pregnancy, it can be harder to get quality sleep because of those uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. You may need to make a greater effort to improve sleep quality, using relaxation techniques, like those described above shortly before bedtime. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine and light from digital screens for some hours before bedtime will also help.
While these are some of the simplest and most important ways to battle anxiety during pregnancy, there’s a lot more that you can do. Although socializing and meeting with support groups is not an option during the lockdown, you can still communicate with therapists and other mums via online platforms. Don’t forget that physical activity and healthy eating can also improve your mood and help relieve anxiety.