Recognising antenatal anxiety

Prenatal anxiety

This week is PND Awareness Week in Australia. PND stands for Postnatal Depression. However, there is growing recognition of the prevalence of postnatal anxiety, and there is also growing recognition that many women suffer from both antenatal anxiety and depression (antenatal means it occurs during pregnancy).

When you suffer from antenatal anxiety and depression during pregnancy, and it goes untreated you are at higher risk of suffering from postnatal anxiety and depression as well. There are also implications for your health and the health of your baby so it’s important that if you are suffering from antenatal anxiety or depression, you recognise the problem and treat it.

Antenatal anxiety is an issue that I like to raise awareness about because it is something that I have overcome and I think, like me, many women do not realise that they are suffering.

When I was pregnant the first time, I had never heard of antenatal anxiety. But looking back I know that I likely had it. My daughter was conceived in the months before the global financial crisis hit. I was living in metro Detroit, and we were the first in the nation to experience the impacts of the financial crisis. I was working as the Director of Operations in a small non-profit and our funding was shaky at best. In the midst of the financial uncertainty, the only other full time employee was on bed rest from her pregnancy complications. If you know anything about working for a small non-profit, you know that you’re already doing the work of more than one person. With my co-worker on bed rest I also had to shoulder the responsibilities of her job along with mine.

And then there was the personal financial stress. Many first time parents wonder how they will cope with the added costs of a new baby. This was compounded by the fact that my husband’s job was cut from full time to part time. My job had no maternity benefits. I knew that I would have to work until the baby was born, and then I would have to use sick leave and vacation pay to have any time off. I knew I would have to go back to work by the time my daughter was six weeks old.

Between the financial stress, the added responsibilities at work, and all of the questions in my head about how I was going to be a good parent, how I was going to breastfeed, how we all would cope when I had to go back to work“¦ I was overwhelmed.

I started to get heart palpitations, which I thought were a physical problem. My heart was checked extensively. Luckily there were no physical problems. Nobody suggested, however, that they were a sign of anxiety.   I was left with a clean bill of health, and pretty much told not to worry about it.

I “˜got through’ the rest of the pregnancy, but I certainly wasn’t at my best. It was very, very difficult. I felt resentful about my job situation. I worried excessively about my health, about the baby’s health, about what the future would hold after my baby was born. I was constantly stressed. I did not have a mindful pregnancy. I did not have a joyful pregnancy. And over time, my anxiety disorder worsened, eventually leading me to a crisis point when my daughter was three years old. From that point, I went through a lifestyle and mindset revolution.   I overcame anxiety disorder and went on to feel better than I had ever felt in life.

Why was I able to do this?   My core belief in life was that I would someday overcome anxiety and depression.   When I was growing up, my mother suffered from anxiety and depression. This was very difficult for me to endure both as a child and as an adult. I always swore that when I had children I would be an emotionally strong and stable mother. A joyful mother.   A good role model.   I always knew that I didn’t want to have children until I was able to work through my mood disorders. Just before becoming pregnant I had faced my demons and I had grown so much. I felt like I was ready.

Yet, once I became pregnant, I fell out of my good habits of reading, meditating, writing, and spiritual practice. I left the door open for anxiety to return and it did. But somehow I didn’t realise I was suffering from anxiety. Had I known, I could have put some practices in place in order to overcome it. This is what I did when I was pregnant the second time. I recognised that I was getting excessively anxious in my first trimester, and so I developed Affirmations For Pregnancy.   The affirmations were a huge help to me in overcoming my fears during pregnancy.

Anyone can develop anxiety disorder for the first time during pregnancy. I had it before I became pregnant, so I was at an increased risk of developing it during pregnancy.   My heart palpitations with no physical cause are a classic symptom of anxiety.

Here are some signs of anxiety:

  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Compulsive behaviours
  • Disturbed sleep or insomnia
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tightness in your chest
  • Dizziness
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Stomach aches
  • Loss of appetite

It can be very tricky to determine whether you are experiencing signs of or typical pregnancy symptoms as some of them are similar (sleep problems, fatigue, appetite changes). It’s also a challenge because many of the signs of anxiety do manifest physically. When my anxiety was it its worst I was sure I was having a heart attack!

It’s common to experience some anxiety during pregnancy ““ in fact, you will never be 100% anxiety free in life. Anxiety was developed to help us survive. We evolved with the anxiety response of fight, flight, freeze, or appease to get us out of danger. Sometimes the signal errs on the side of caution. We startle when we see something out of the corner of our eye that turns out to be harmless, for example. However, if you are finding your quality of life is impeded by anxious thoughts or other symptoms of anxiety you will benefit from addressing this excessive anxiety.

It’s important to seek professional advice if you are experiencing problems with your physical or emotional health during pregnancy. If you find out that you are suffering from anxiety there are many things you can do.   The awareness of what is happening is an important step. Now that you know what the problem is, you can open yourself up to solutions.

On the Mindful Pregnancy blog, I share many exercises that I used to help overcome my anxiety. You may find these helpful to you. They can be a part of your recovery, as they were a part of mine.

Please know that if you are not coping, or are unsure of what is happening in your body and your mind, I encourage you to seek the help of a trusted professional. Some resources you can link in to are:

In the Australian Capital Territory where I am based ““ PANDSI
In Australia ““ PANDA
Worldwide ““ Postpartum Support International

You can also download Beyond Blue’sA guide to emotional health and wellbeing during pregnancy and early parenthood“ which includes a lot of information about PND and Anxiety. The PDF also includes the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. The EPDS is a set of questions that can tell you whether you have symptoms that are common in women with depression and anxiety during pregnancy and in the year following the birth of a child. While it’s not a diagnostic tool, it can help you determine whether you would benefit from seeking help.

What helps you maintain your emotional wellbeing during pregnancy? Please share your experiences by commenting below.

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