Written by Psychologist Nikolina Miljus.
When we go through the list of pregnancy symptoms, anxiety is not one you’d normally find on there. But for many women anxiety is indeed a pregnancy symptom – and one which comes as a real surprise.
Even if you haven’t experienced anxiety in the past (or in your prior pregnancies), physical, hormonal, and psychological changes in pregnancy often contribute to feelings of anxiety and fear.
The worst thing is that these feelings seem to come out of the blue.
And they can seem especially worrying if you’ve always had good mental health.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might be experiencing anxiety as a symptom of pregnancy.
Hormonal changes are part and parcel of being a woman, but for some women the huge influx of pregnancy hormones can result in not just physical symptoms, but psychological ones too.
To make things more confusing these symptoms are often interlinked and hard to separate.
For instance, a common pregnancy symptom is palpitations. This is usually nothing to be concerned about and is caused by the increased amount of blood in your body.
Yet when we feel palpitations for the first time, it’s natural to start to worry about them.
Anxious thoughts may start filling your mind about your health, and that of your baby’s.
You try to calm yourself but the palpitations don’t stop, which can easily lead to panicky feelings.
This is just one example of how the physical symptoms of pregnancy can result in anxiety.
The trick with this is to arm yourself with knowledge. Once you know that palpitations are common and not dangerous you don’t need to worry about them anymore.
It may feel strange but it’s a normal part of pregnancy.
Pregnancy Induced Psychological Changes
Emotional shifts during pregnancy can make you wonder if you are the same person you were before you found out you were pregnant. There is so much new stuff to cope with and so many changes to contend with at once.
1. New Challenges
On a psychological level, you’re facing so many new challenges. Questions around whether you’ll be a good mother is a big one. It’s the most important job in the world and we want to do it well.
These thoughts naturally lead us to start analyzing how our mom was with us and sometimes that’s very difficult. Will we make the same mistakes she did? Will we be able to live up to how wonderful she was?
2. Feeling More Vulnerable
Your needs for support from your partner, close family and friends are more intense. You may feel more needy or clingy than usual.
3. New Worries
Worrying if you’ll be able to afford all the things your baby will need, if pregnancy and labor will go smoothly, the health of your baby as he or she grows inside you, how your relationship will stand up to the pressures – these are all justified and normal worries for most moms-to-be.
4. New Fears
Uncertainties, fear of the unknown, fear of labor and birth, fear that a health problem will be discovered during an ultrasound, fear of miscarriage – these are all anxiety producing thoughts that give rise to much anxiety.
What does anxiety in pregnancy look like?
The best way to understand anxiety is by looking at it as the intense fear of events that might happen in the future.
Anxiety triggers your body to respond in a way that equips it to face an imminent danger.
For instance, if you were facing a lion in a desert, your muscles would tense up, your heart would start pumping more blood, and your glands would begin secreting stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
But anxiety in pregnancy is either related to the events that might happen in the future or the events that are not in your power to control.
For example, your anxiety can be triggered by worrying if you will be able to be a good mom and take care of your baby.
Alternatively, you might be worried if you are going to miscarry or that your baby will not be healthy.
Even though you can’t resolve fears like these in the present, your body still reacts the same way it would to an immediate threat.
Anxiety in pregnancy can lead to symptoms like:
- Excessive worry about the future that’s tough to control
- Feelings of fear and uneasiness
- Feeling restless and not being able to calm yourself
- Compulsive behaviors
- Muscle tension
- Cold or sweaty hands or feet
- Sleep problems
- Difficulties with concentration
If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms similar to these on a daily basis for the period of two weeks or more, you might be experiencing anxiety disorder and should talk to your midwife or GP.
Up to 33% of pregnant women will experience varying degrees of anxiety in pregnancy.
There is no need for you to suffer the distress brought on by the anxiety since there are effective, pregnancy-safe treatment options available.
Psychotherapy practices like cognitive behavioral therapy or learning relaxation techniques can help you calm the physical aspects of your anxiety without posing any risk for your pregnancy.
Anxiety and fear can create an isolating circle around you and those worrying thoughts about your body, pregnancy or the future can cause intense physical and mental discomfort.
You might also start worrying if what you are feeling is normal, which amplifies the anxiety and add guilt or self-blame to an already complex mix of emotions.
These are just some of the reasons you should share your concerns with someone you trust.
If you’re experiencing anxiety as a pregnancy symptom talk to your midwife or GP about it.
Bringing your fears and anxiety out in the open can sometimes be enough to allow you to fully enjoy your pregnancy.