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Whether it's the idea that you're growing a human inside of you, that your body is changing and doing the thing it has never done before, or that you're nervous about delivery day, pregnancy can and will bring a healthy dose of anxiety. Instead of suffering through it or, worse, pretending like everything is fine, try these simple tricks to help alleviate prenatal stress and anxiety.
Yes, your circumstances are inherently anxiety-inducing. But did you know that hormones play a huge role, too? Yep! Along with all the other hormonal changes that are happening to prepare you for parenthood, anxiety levels can spike due to nothing more than some common shifts in cortisol levels, which is also known as "the stress hormone." Actually 1 in 10 women report feeling anxious at some point during their pregnancy for no apparent reason.
The Stress and Anxiety Hormone
Even in people who aren't pregnant, high levels of cortisol can lead to depression, IBS, weight management problems, insomnia, and can worsen pre-existing conditions like autoimmune disorders. When pregnant, some studies have found that drastic upticks in cortisol during pregnancy can negatively impact the growth and development of the fetus, damage the baby's brain, and in some cases lead to miscarriage. It's important to remember that cortisol rises 2-4 times during pregnancy, which is normal and actually helps in the development of a baby. So know that some stress during pregnancy is typical and expected, but dramatic increases in stress levels may be harmful to your health.
Managing Your Prenatal Stress and Anxiety
Healthy Eating Habits: Stress has a funny way of messing with our ability to take care of our basic needs. Some people find comfort with stress eating salty, fatty, sugary, and processed foods while others seem to forget to eat altogether. When you're feeling anxious, it's important to remember to fuel your body with nutritious whole foods even when you don't feel like it—getting a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, vitamins, and minerals. If you tend to forget to eat, try setting calendar reminders on your phone for meal times.
Gentle Movement: Listening to your body is the name of the game during pregnancy. No doubt. If you're feeling anxious, nervous, worried, or stressed out, instead of pacing the house or googling everything that could go wrong during your pregnancy, try a walk around the neighborhood, perhaps with a friend. If possible, maybe leave your phone at home and take this time just for you. Studies show that 30 minutes of exercise a day helps lower cortisol levels. Plus, getting outside for a little sunshine and fresh air can do wonders.
Sleep: Getting enough sleep can be the antidote to occasional anxiety, yet insomnia is not uncommon during pregnancy. It is normal to feel the need to nap. Or you may find yourself heading to bed much earlier than you used to. Keep listening to your body, and rest when you feel your body urging you to.
Tips for Prenatal Insomnia
The inability to easily fall or stay asleep is common during pregnancy. If you find yourself struggling to settle into bed and drift off to dreamland, try some of these things as part of your winddown routine.
Take a warm bath before bed.
Make sure you aren't hungry before bed, and, if so, have a small nutrient dense snack.
Turn off all screens at least 30 minutes before settling in.
Avoid stressful media. Skip the evening news if it causes you to worry or stress.
Make sure the room you're sleeping in is at a comfortable temperature. Add blankets if you feel too cold. Bring in a portable fan if you feel too hot.
Experiment with different sleeping positions as your sleeping preferences may have changed since becoming pregnant. Consider additional pillows to support your growing belly or help you get comfortable at night.
Figuring out who and what makes your anxiety worsen is a great tool for managing it. If you know that talking to your in-laws about where the baby should go to college stresses you out, maybe you set up some boundaries with them and let your partner be their main line of communication for now. Or perhaps, it's fear-mongering new outlets, social networking sites, or mommy blogs that trigger you. Creating some boundaries on what you look at, particularly when it comes to TV and social media, is a great way to get some control over your feelings. If the content or people are not supportive or building you up, it is okay to create some space and distance for yourself.
Despite everyone asking you how you're doing all of the time, pregnancy can be lonely. In the time of COVID, pregnant people were more isolated than ever. Things have changed since 2020, so if seeing supportive friends and family is something you're comfortable with, go for it! If you're still unsure, maybe you can connect with loved ones virtually. Plan Zoom game nights with family, mocktail happy hour with friends, or even just a simple phone call to someone who loves and cares about you deeply. Nurturing connections especially during these challenging times can help with combatting anxiety or loneliness you may be experiencing during pregnancy.
The more you know, the less you worry. Instead of listening to everyone else's experience of being pregnant or worse -- what they've been told it's like -- do your own research. If you hear a staggering fact and it starts to cause you to spiral, look it up! Seek out evidence-based information, which means research based on facts and not opinions. Even so, the internet can be a confusing place filled with misinformation and opinions stated as fact. Birthify was created to give new parents access to birth professionals who are highly educated, vetted, and experienced. We understand the nuances of pregnancy and do not take a one-size-fits-all approach. Having a birth coach allows you to have a 1:1 personal conversation with someone hand-picked for you!
There may be many challenges that go along with being pregnant, and for many stress is a part of the deal. Remember that you don't have to suffer. There are ways to boost your mood and improve your quality of life as you navigate these uncharted waters.
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