There is a lot that often goes unrecognised with regards to mental health during pregnancy. In part – and this is not to start a gender debate – it can be attributed to the fact that approximately half of the population are physiologically unable to give birth. And so, there just isn’t an appreciation for the rigours and challenges that some – but not all – women can face during the term of pregnancy. When you then factor in the general stigma surrounding mental health, you narrow the chances of finding any real sense of compassion from your immediate family/support network. This, in turn, causes many women to deny themselves permission to seek help when necessary. Postpartum depression generally takes all of the limelight when the discussion of mental health during pregnancy arise. But perinatal anxiety is just as common.
What is Perinatal Anxiety (And What Does it Require Attention?)
Perinatal Anxiety is another term used to describe generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), which occurs specifically during pregnancy and is rooted in the associated fears and apprehensions around the process of giving birth – especially for first-time mothers – as well as the responsibility of caring for a new infant. The idea of this can be very overwhelming for some women who may have found themselves abandoned in unwanted or unplanned pregnancy with a father who doesn’t want to be involved or else is emotionally unavailable to provide the proper support.
But this isn’t the only set of circumstances in which perinatal anxiety can surface. It can just as easily manifest in someone who does have all the support they need. But, for whatever reason, they find taking on the role of being a mother to be too daunting. And in this case, it could be other environmental and circumstantial factors that come more into play. There could be financial issues, the potential loss of career opportunities in competitive industries by taking maternity leave, along with the general assumptions of what could go wrong.
Working off of some known figures relating to GAD, around 6% of the population with experience the condition at some point during their lifetime. And at any one time, roughly 1-3% of the population will be living with GAD. When you factor in that the condition is twice as common in women as it is in men, it becomes a particular concern during pregnancy. It’s been estimated that around 8.5%-10% of women will experience some form of GAD during the term of their pregnancy.
Signs and Symptoms
Although the signs and symptoms may vary from person to person, there is a general list of symptoms associated with perinatal anxiety that affect both the body and mind:
Symptoms of the Body
- The feeling of your stomach turning over on itself
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Pins and needles around the body
- Feeling restless/agitated and unable to sit still (Fidgeting)
- Headaches, backaches or other aches and pain in the body
- Heavy/faster breathing than normal
- Heart palpitations/irregular heartbeat
- Sweating or hot flushes
- Finding it difficult to sleep even when extremely tired
- Grinding your teeth, especially at night
- Frequent use of the bathroom
- Changes in sex drive
- Panic attacks
Symptoms of the Mind
- Feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
- Having a sense of dread or fearing the worst about your child
- The sense that the world is speeding up or slowing down
- Feeling as though other people are judging you as being anxious
- Feeling like bad things will happen if you stop worrying about them
- Constantly seeking reassurance from people
- Worrying about being anxious (worrying about panic attacks etc)
- Fearing that you’re losing touch with reality
- Rumination – replaying bad situations in your head over and over again
- Depersonalisation – feeling disconnected from your mind or body (dissociation)
- Derealisation – feeling as though you’re disconnected from the world around you
3 Strategies to Help You Overcome Perinatal Anxiety
1. Giving Yourself Permission
In a world where every aspect of our life has been commodified, industrialised and distilled into a simple one size fits all message, it can be hard to break away from the cultural status quo. Advertisements, media, and ‘accepted truisms’ are all telling you to feel a certain way about pregnancy. But it’s very much a personal journey. And as we’ve already extrapolated, it can be quite a challenging one. Motherhood doesn’t entail feeling euphoric all of the time about bringing a child into the world. Unfortunately, real life isn’t that romantic. It’s important that you allow yourself to normalise your situation and become ok with the fact that sometimes you’re not ok, so you can provide yourself relevant self-care.
2. Ensure You’re Getting Good Quality Sleep
Getting more sleep is a very catch-all statement that can often be disregarded because of the simplicity. It can often be a victim of its own sense of obviousness. But that takes nothing away from the fact that it is very much an important variable to nail down. And the relationship between sleep during pregnancy and in postpartum women can be a complex one because a lack of sleep can be a contributing factor to perineal anxiety as well as a sign that the condition itself is manifesting. The best way to get a good night’s sleep is first and foremost to get into a good routine – go to bed at the same time every night. Don’t use your bedroom for recreation, and avoid consuming too much caffeine later on during the day.
3. Build up a Proper Support Network
Despite the fact that perinatal anxiety affects a significant number of women, its lack of recognition means there isn’t a great of specialised support groups out there. At least not on the same scale as postpartum depression. But that doesn’t mean to say that those same services and community support groups can’t be accessed. It’s highly unlikely you’d be turned away and at the very worst, if you couldn’t find help, you’d almost certainly be redirected to a service that could provide you with adequate support. And as much as social media can be often-maligned for disconnecting us, where mental health is concerned joining relevant Facebook groups can provide a great source of relief. Making a post to be read by others and knowing your voice is being heard can be extremely beneficial.