While the rates of mood disorders in pregnancy and in postpartum are exactly the same, we remain tight-lipped about mental health challenges in pregnancy. Prenatal anxiety is just as common as postpartum depression.
Though mainstream conversation wouldn’t have you believe it, anxiety in pregnancy is just as common as postpartum depression. In discussions about the transition to motherhood, we hear the term “postpartum depression” quite commonly. Mental health struggles during pregnancy however is a neglected topic. It’s no wonder that no one seems to know about the mental health matters that so many women suffer from in the months and weeks after conceiving. While the rates of these mood disorders in pregnancy and in postpartum are exactly the same, we remain tight-lipped about the former.
And I want to change that.
It shouldn’t be news that women experience anxiety and depression in pregnancy. Women carrying a baby have been struggling with their mental health since… always.
Just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But because we don’t talk about it, many women feel isolated in their experiences. So. If you’re pregnant and feeling worried, down, anxious or just having a hard time managing your mood, the first piece of good news is that you’re not alone. The second piece of good news is that all of your symptoms are treatable. And I mean all of them.
Society may have you thinking that pregnancy is simply a blissful period of basking in the prenatal glow. I’m here to debunk this myth. Truthfully, pregnancy can be a challenging time. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? Your body is going through immense change and your entire life is about to shift!
If you’re having a hard time recognizing your own anxiety, you’re in the right place.
Below are the four most obvious signs that you’re struggling and might need some extra support.
1. You feel nervous, agitated, or uneasy.
You can probably think of a time recently when you felt nervous about something (that awkward conversation with your mother in law, the one-on-one call with your boss). Physical feelings of jitteriness, discomfort and unease are sensations you can usually feel in your body.
You know that uncomfortable stomach-dropping, heart-pounding feeling that you have before a major pitch or presentation?
Sometimes we struggle with those anxious sensations for seemingly no reason in our day-to-day life. If you’re feeling like that consistently throughout the day, that’s a problem and a huge sign that anxiety is playing too large a role right now. There are many simple ways to manage that! Listen to your body—it’s saying something.
2. You’re having stomach issues and difficulty breathing, or sleeping.
Anxiety often shows up in your body in more than a butterflies-in-your-tummy kind of way. Oftentimes, people even mistake physical symptoms of anxiety for something else. (In my experience in early motherhood, I didn’t recognize my anxiety and thought I had problems with my lungs!)
Constantly having pain or a queasy feeling in your stomach or having diarrhea are physical signs of anxiety. Many also express difficulty sleeping which can take a toll when nights of poor sleep quality accumulate. A common physical symptom of anxiety (and one that women especially talk about ) is shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and just feeling like you can’t get enough air.
Have you experienced one or more of these symptoms since becoming pregnant? Your body is always giving clues when things are out of balance—paying attention to these clues is a pretty good step to get your health (physical and mental) back to where you want it.
3. Scary or disturbing thoughts.
In the time since you found out you were pregnant, you may have started to experience unsettling thoughts. Unwanted images or scary scenarios that pop into your mind out of the blue are called intrusive thoughts. They’re SO common especially during pregnancy and early motherhood.
We’ve all had that experience of driving down the road and suddenly envisioning ourselves veering into oncoming traffic or driving off a bridge. It’s a scary scenario we’ve imagined, it flashes into our mind out of nowhere and it’s quite disturbing. That’s an intrusive thought.
The phenomenon that causes that dark traffic accident thought is the same one at play during pregnancy. In pregnancy, intrusive thoughts might involve you getting hurt and losing your baby or having a complication during labour. This is really common but we can add it to the list of perinatal mental health concerns that society ignores.
Because intrusive thoughts aren’t commonly discussed, most women don’t know that this sign of anxiety actually has a name. Nor do they realize that it happens to the majority of pregnant women—not just them. (If only we had realized how normal this is, we would have spared ourselves so much guilt and shame…)
How to know if these thoughts are dangerous:
If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts which revolve around harm coming to you or your baby, consider if these thoughts are in alignment with what you want. If you’d NEVER be OK with that scenario coming true, then they’re likely a sign of anxiety. If the thought is in alignment with what you want, then you do need to reach out for help (call 911). Most of the time, intrusive thoughts are merely a sign of anxiety—which is why we find them disturbing.
There’s no shame in that.
4. Worrying about the future.
If you’re spending a lot of your time running possible scenarios through your mind or stressing about the “what ifs,” that’s a sign that you may be suffering from anxiety in pregnancy. Your inner dialogue might run a string of worries like “What if my boss doesn’t give me enough time off?”, “What if my husband is a bad dad?” or “What if something bad happens when I go into labour?”
There’s a difference between anticipating what’s ahead and getting stuck fretting about what could happen way down the road. If the hypotheticals of the future have you unable to properly live in the present, that’s a sign of anxiety. If you’re feeling stuck in this anxious thought cycle, know that you absolutely can move past this state of worry.
Even though some anxiety during pregnancy is completely normal, it’s not spoken about often enough in our society. When we don’t acknowledge these painful experiences, women feel isolated in their struggles. Feeling as though you’re the only one with these experiences creates a sense of shame. That just makes it even more difficult for women to reach out and get support.
If any of the above signs of anxiety during pregnancy describe what you’re going through, just remember that you’re not alone, and each of these symptoms is completely treatable.
You deserve support. You can feel at ease in your own mind with the proper tools, information and skills.