Navigating the ups and downs of pregnancy, coupled with anxiety, can make for an awfully long and uncomfortable nine months. It all begins with a confirmation of pregnancy, automatically catapulting a pregnant person into a world of unknowns, inconsistencies, and case-by-case scenarios. This is true for first time pregnancies, subsequent pregnancies following a loss, fertility protocol followers, surrogate families, second or third parents to-be, etc. Navigating this unpredictable pregnancy journey can elicit symptoms of anxiety, often spontaneous, typically brought on by an upcoming appointment or ultrasound. Changing our anxious mind and behaviour, and managing our anxious body is genuinely a difficult practice, similar to learning a new skill. So, what is anxiety exactly?
Anxiety is a natural, adaptive response when we feel unsafe or threatened in our minds, body, actions and behaviours.
Pregnant people may find it more difficult to spot physical manifestations of anxiety i.e. difficulty falling and staying asleep, loss of appetite, achiness, sense of doom or dread, muscle tension, agitation or restlessness, racing heart, mimicking commonly reported symptoms of pregnancy.
The anxious mind will persistently generate both worry and fear, which will show themselves in a variety of ways including: catastrophizing, perfectionism, reassurance-seeking, dread, self-talk/lack of confidence, and avoidant behaviour.
Avoidance is the most common way anxious individuals cope with symptoms of anxiety.
Learning How to Skate
Skating is a skill that you can learn at almost any age. Aerobic benefits aside, skating improves balance and coordination and with time and practice, strengthens muscles, joint flexibility, and endurance. Similarly, anxiety skill building requires the same level of time and practice to achieve the same level of strength, flexibility, and endurance.
Finding the Right Skate ~ Courage
With any anxiety management strategy we may be skeptical as to whether the strategy will ‘fit’, and without even trying we can immediately discount the possible benefits. Strategies will feel different as they begin to assist with calming brain activity and consequently, minimizing arousal in the body. Ultimately, the calmer our brain is, the less you will feel unpleasant mind and body symptoms.
A few places to begin:
Nix the ‘Media’ - Turn off alerts on social media. Choose a specific time of day, with a time limit to ‘catch up’. Limit time spent ‘Googling’ pregnancy symptoms and exposure to online pregnancy forums.
Protect your space - Choose a place to leave your cellular device in the evenings. Reduce the need to respond instantaneously to communication. Provide updates surrounding appointments and progress after you have had time to process the information yourself.
Modify your environment - Reduce stimulation. Every two hours, stretch or walk in or outdoors. Keep a favourite photo handy (people, places, pets) - close your eyes and try taking a one minute vacation. Integrate time to care for your body.
Stepping Away from the Rail
Breathing is the single most effective technique to manage the anxious mind and body. This practice will help keep the body calm and over time will reduce panic.
Plan Breath Breaks - Seven days, one minute per day, eyes open or closed, and simply breathe. Revisit after one week. Assess whether you are ready to increase. Let go of that railing and glide.
Count your way to Centre Ice - Pace your breathing. Inhale to the count of two. Exhale to the count of two. Increase by increments of 2, 4, 6 etc.
Skating from One Blue Line to the Next ~ Embracing Fear
The anxious mind shows itself in a variety of different ways. Fear can inhibit our willingness, confidence, and belief that we are able.
Keep a worry diary - Confine worries to this specific place. Track emotion trends. Monitor possible triggers or events that could have preceded the panic or worry.
Replace negative thoughts with positive ones - Try a scripture passage, an affirmation, poem, or song lyric. Recite often, out loud if possible.
Change the filter - Enhance awareness to experiences or feelings during your pregnancy that have been positive. Remind yourself that you are brave. Focus on one day at a time.
Pregnancy, for some, will challenge and ignite the most frightening fears and worries. Tighten up those skates, breathe, pace yourself, and glide on that bumpy ice. Believe in your ability to skate through the unknowns. Remember, it’s never too late to learn how to skate.
Bina Moore is a Registered Social Worker (MSW, RSW) with the Ontario College of Social Workers, Maternal Mental Health Advocate & Counsellor offering services through Embrace Counselling Services, an Infant and Pregnancy Loss Doula, with Home Hospice Association & a Labour Doula student, with DOULAs Inc.