How to Cope With Anxiety During Pregnancy

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Every parent-to-be has worries. Whether you are concerned about your developing baby or anxious about labor and delivery, it is not uncommon to have your fair share of nervousness and anxiety. The reality is that behind nearly every pregnant belly is a hesitant, worried—and perhaps even anxious—person.

In fact, by some estimates, nearly one in five women meet the diagnostic criteria for at least one anxiety disorder during pregnancy, so if you are feeling a tad anxious, you are certainly not alone. Here is what you need to know about anxiety in pregnancy including what is normal, when to seek help, and, most importantly, how to cope.

How Anxiety Can Impact Pregnancy

When it comes to being pregnant, some amount of anxiety is expected. After all, feeling anxious from time to time is part of the journey—but more importantly part of being human. We all worry to some degree, and pregnancy is no different.

"[In fact], pregnancy-specific anxiety is estimated to occur in about 15% of pregnancies," explains Andrea Chisholm, MD, FACOG, the director of the rural health clinic for Cody Regional Health in Wyoming. "It is characterized by anxiety and worry about the developing baby or something going wrong with the pregnancy."

Some people may worry about whether or not they will be good parents while others have concerns over how their relationship with their partner will change. Some may wonder how they will juggle parenting and work, or even fret about how they will pay for everything that is needed.

Other people—especially those who have suffered a previous miscarriage or struggled with fertility problems—may even be more prone to worry and anxiety than others.

Whatever your reason for worrying during your pregnancy, recognize that experiencing anxiety is normal. Do not beat yourself up if you are feeling a little worried or nervous from time to time.

"Humans tend not to like uncertainty and it is easy for anxiety to come in and paint uncertainty in a negative and dangerous light," says Beth Brawley, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor, and a BFRB specialist that treats people with anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD).

When you are pregnant, not only do you have fluctuating hormones that can impact anxiety, but you also may have a lot of uncertainty. This fact can easily trigger worries about the unknown and cause people to dwell on the "what ifs," Brawley says.

How to Cope With Anxiety

When it comes to coping with anxiety in pregnancy, most healthcare providers will initially treat anxiety with a more holistic approach, says Dr. Chisholm. She encourages pregnant women struggling with anxiety to consider cognitive behavioral therapy, a mind-body practice like yoga, or even acupuncture. Here are some other ways to cope with anxiety in pregnancy.

Change Your View of Anxiety

Instead of viewing anxiety as something that is bad or dangerous, try changing how you think about what you are experiencing, suggests Brawley. Look at anxiety as something you can accept, tolerate, and function within.

Beth Brawley, LPC

When I am treating someone with anxiety, we work on engaging in a compassionate response to the experiences of anxiety.

— Beth Brawley, LPC

"When I am treating someone with anxiety, we work on engaging in a compassionate response to the experiences of anxiety," she says. "[You can say to yourself], 'Hey thanks brain, I see you are trying to help but actually I can handle this situation.'"

Acknowledge that you are feeling anxious and that your body is responding to something it feels is a threat. But, remind yourself—and your brain—that you can handle this. By doing so, you may be able to quiet your nerves somewhat.

Empower Yourself

Stop for a minute and write down your worries. Then, take a look at your list and try to address those worries. If thoughts about labor and delivery are causing your mind to spin, consider signing up for a childbirth class.

If you are apprehensive about breastfeeding, call a lactation consultant and schedule an appointment to talk. Or, if you are worried about how your relationship with your partner will change after the baby is born, set aside some time to talk about your concerns and your expectations.

The key is that you focus on the things you can control. You may not be able to control what happens during labor and delivery, but you can empower yourself with more knowledge about what to expect and how to prepare.

Many times, anxiety is rooted in uncertainty or feeling like something is outside of your control. And although you can never completely control a situation, you can focus on trying to be more proactive.

Schedule Worry Time

Sometimes feeling anxious or worried can take up a lot of time. Try setting aside 30 minutes a day where you are free to worry about whatever is troubling you. For instance, when a worry or anxious thought creeps into your mind, tell yourself "I will get to that later" and move on.

Then, when your worry time comes, try to focus on worrying in a productive way. For instance, you can write down questions for your healthcare provider or research a specific pregnancy symptom online. Or, you could call a friend or family member to talk about your concerns.

The key is that you are allowing yourself to experience your worries or anxieties, but also putting boundaries around them. Doing so frees you from holding on to your worries throughout the day or ruminating about the same things over and over again.

Practice Self-Compassion

Remember, pregnancy is not easy, says Brawley. So go easy on yourself. Treat yourself with patience, gentleness, and kindness along the way.

"My clients know I am a huge proponent of self-compassion work," says Brawley. "Treating ourselves the way we would a dear friend helps us move through difficult experiences in a much gentler way than if we beat ourselves up along the process."

Consequently, think about how you can take care of yourself. What types of things do you need right now? There is nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and ensuring your needs are being met. And, when you make a mistake, be gentle with yourself.

Incorporate Healthy Movement

Look for ways to incorporate movement into your daily life. For instance, you can try a pregnancy yoga class or take a walk with your partner each evening. Moving around in a safe and gentle way not only keeps your body healthy but also helps you release anxious thoughts and clear your mind.

"Healthy movement in our bodies is a great way to offer loving-kindness to bodies as they change," says Brawley. "Movement is also something that can be greatly impacted by pregnancy, so it is important to be flexible and gentle with ourselves and our bodies."

In general, it is safe to perform gentle exercises while pregnant like water aerobics, swimming, or walking. But, if you are at risk for preterm labor, have a high-risk pregnancy, or have pregnancy complications, you should talk to a healthcare provider before starting an exercise regimen.

Practice Mindfulness

Multiple studies have demonstrated that practicing mindfulness helps reduce stress and anxiety. In fact, one study looked specifically at pregnancy anxiety and included participants that reported high anxiety levels while pregnant. Some of the study participants took a six-week mindfulness class while the rest read a pregnancy book.

The people in the mindfulness class learned how to deal with their negative emotions like anxiety. And, when compared with the control group that simply read a pregnancy book, the mindfulness participants saw bigger decreases in anxiety overall.

"Mindfulness is such a great part of anxiety therapy," says Brawley. "The practice of allowing ourselves to be connected to this present moment as opposed to latching onto our racing thought spirals, keeps us grounded and gives us the opportunity to make choices from a place of self."

When to Get Help

It is normal to have some unease and worry during pregnancy, Dr. Chisholm says. Major changes are happening in your body and your life is about to become much different. But there is a difference between expected worrying and overwhelming anxiety that seems to take over your life.

"If your worry is all-consuming and you are consumed with a sense of panic or you are having trouble concentrating or sleeping, that is not normal," she says. "It is important to discuss any symptoms you are having with your provider. They will help you figure out what you need."

According to Brawley, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to feel when anxious. But, there are some common symptoms that may be related to anxiety. You may experience several symptoms or all of them. Share your specific symptoms with a healthcare provider.

Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Experiencing racing thoughts
  • Having feelings of doom, dread, or panic
  • Lacking the ability to concentrate
  • Having repetitive thoughts
  • Experiencing constant worries
  • Dealing with intrusive thoughts
  • Having increased irritability
  • Experiencing sleep or appetite disturbances
  • Feeling dizzy, nauseous, or fidgety
  • Having a rapid heart rate

"When looking at anxiety from a clinical perspective, I like to look at functionality," Brawley says. "Is your anxiety getting in the way of you being able to live life in the way that you want to or need to? If so, it may be helpful to see someone who specializes in anxiety disorders to help you."

After all, not addressing the anxiety you are experiencing can negatively affect you and your baby. For instance, one study found that untreated anxiety increases the risk of low birth weight, earlier gestational age, and a smaller head circumference (which is related to brain size), and even pre-term birth.

Be upfront with your healthcare provider about what you are feeling or experiencing. Not only is there no shame in being anxious, but it is also not your fault. Additionally, if more holistic methods do not work, there are times when anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed by your healthcare provider.

These options will be evaluated on a risk to benefit basis. With the help of your provider, you can decide what is the best option for you and your baby.

A Word From Verywell

It is not uncommon for pregnancy to bring a rollercoaster of emotions. In fact, experiencing worries or anxieties in pregnancy is universal. Everything from hormonal changes and a lack of sleep to prior miscarriages and financial issues can all contribute to your anxiety. And while a certain amount of anxiety is expected, there comes a point when too much anxiety can start to create problems.

Do not be hard on yourself or beat yourself up if you are worrying more than you feel you should. Instead, be proactive and talk to a healthcare provider about your symptoms. They can assess your situation and recommend a treatment plan that is right for you.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Chandra PS, Nanjundaswamy MH. Pregnancy specific anxiety: an under‐recognized problemWorld Psychiatry. 2020;19(3):336-337. doi:10.1002/wps.20781

  3. Guardino CM, Dunkel Schetter C, Bower JE, Lu MC, Smalley SL. Randomized controlled pilot trial of mindfulness training for stress reduction during pregnancyPsychology & Health. 2014;29(3):334-349. doi:10.1080/08870446.2013.852670

  4. Grigoriadis S, Graves L, Peer M, Mamisashvili L, Tomlinson G, Vigod SN, Dennis CL, Steiner M, Brown C, Cheung A, Dawson H, Rector NA, Guenette M, Richter M. Maternal anxiety during pregnancy and the association with adverse perinatal outcomes: systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Psychiatry. 2018 Sep 4;79(5):17r12011. doi:10.4088/JCP.17r12011. PMID:30192449.

Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.