While pregnancy is still viewed by our society as almost a perfect, idyllic period of a woman’s life, the truth can be very different. The unprecedented hormonal and bodily changes of pregnancy, in fact, can cause several mental health concerns. These can be even more serious in women who were already struggling with their mental well-being before getting pregnant.
Conditions such as panic disorder, postpartum psychosis, tokophobia in pregnancy, and prenatal depression are, unfortunately, more common than we’d like to think. Nonetheless, if you suffer from any of these, it helps to know that treatment and support are available.
Keep reading our essential guide to perinatal anxiety, learn useful and simple ways to manage and treat it, and go back to enjoying a happy, healthy pregnancy.
Prenatal, postnatal, and perinatal anxiety
While many people seem to be familiar with the expression “postnatal depression”, not so many know that anxiety during or after pregnancy is also very common. When talking about anxiety, the term “perinatal” encompasses all types of anxiety occurring during pregnancy or soon after the birth of a baby. To be more precise:
- Antenatal or prenatal anxiety is experienced during pregnancy
- Postnatal anxiety is experienced during the first year after the birth of a baby
- Perinatal anxiety is experienced at any moment from getting pregnant through to around 12 months after giving birth.
Symptoms and signs of perinatal anxiety
Read below to find out how perinatal anxiety can affect both your body and your mind, and what you can do about it.
How does it affect your body?
These are the most commonly reported physical signs of perinatal anxiety:
- Feeling dizzy, nauseous, or light-headed
- Feeling restless or, on the contrary, feeling incapable of moving
- Suffering from constant headaches or other new aches or pains
- Experiencing a rapid heart rate and faster breathing
- Sweating more than normal
- Experiencing sleeping problems, including insomnia and teeth-grinding at night
How does it affect your mind?
Perinatal anxiety also has a huge effect on your mind. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Feeling constantly on edge, worried, and unable to relax
- Feeling scared all the time
- Experiencing negative, intrusive thoughts
- Feeling disconnected from your baby
- Experiencing dissociation as either depersonalisation (feeling disconnected from yourself) or derealisation (feeling disconnected from others and the outside world)
Self-care and perinatal anxiety
As you can imagine, perinatal anxiety can be incredibly debilitating for a woman’s physical and mental health. If you suffer from it, you might find it overwhelming to do most daily tasks, and even feel like you can’t cope with life due to your constant, extremely high levels of anxiety. This might also make you even more worried that this anxiety could harm your baby, which in turn keeps the vicious circle of anxiety going.
Take a deep breath, find a quiet spot where you feel safe and comfortable, and keep reading our suggestions to placate your perinatal anxiety.
It doesn’t matter if you are not an artist: creativity is a wonderful balm for the soul, and it can help tremendously if you are trying to reduce your anxiety. Getting creative looks different for different people, so don’t feel like you have to do something specific.
If you need some inspiration, though, here is a handy list of artsy activities that you might want to try, to get your mind off things and embrace a slower, calmer lifestyle:
- Charcoal drawing
- Watercolour painting
- Playing an instrument
- Writing or journaling
- Making jewellery
Move your body
Staying active during and after pregnancy can help you shift your focus away from your anxious thoughts and give your mood a boost. Remember to always speak with your doctor before starting any physical activity, especially if your pregnancy is classified as high-risk, or if you have had a complicated birth.
If your doctor gives you the green light, you can try some gentle exercises such as yoga, Pilates, and swimming. Taking a daily walk can also be a wonderful way to move your body both during and after pregnancy, without putting pressure on your joints and minimising the risk of injuries. After you have exercised, remember to take some time to indulge in a long, warm shower, and slip into your favourite loungewear to wind down for the night.
During and straight after pregnancy, it’s important to nurture yourself, both from a physical and an emotional point of view. Start easy by preparing yourself (or having someone prepare for you) healthy, nutritious meals, as well as drinking plenty of water.
Getting all the essential nutrients in you will help stabilise your hormone levels and make you feel more balanced. Then, take some time to treat yourself to a moment of self-care, every day. This can be something as simple as soaking in a warm (not too hot, remember) bubble bath, with your favourite candle releasing a pleasant, relaxing scent in the air.
Help and treatment
Professional help is available if you suffer from perinatal anxiety. Your first port of call should always be your GP or midwife or, if you have already given birth, your health visitor. Talk to them about how you are feeling, and they will be able to provide you with the most suitable treatment.
Typically, they might refer you to counselling or other forms of talking therapy such as CBT or IPT. If your perinatal anxiety is severe, your doctor might suggest taking medication, or perhaps combining counselling with medication.
How long can perinatal anxiety last?
Perinatal anxiety can last up until around 12 months after giving birth.
Is perinatal anxiety common?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 10% of pregnant women and 13% of new mums struggle with a mental health condition, which is usually depression as opposed to anxiety. However, perinatal anxiety remains fairly common, both in developed and developing countries.