Recognizing Anxiety During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is an emotional time, and anxiety is just one of many feelings that pregnant women experience. A moderate amount of new fears and worries is normal and expected during this time of change. If you are experiencing quite a bit of anxiety, it can be helpful to first learn more about what anxiety is, and how it can show up during pregnancy.

"Late in my pregnancy I feel so panicky all the time, my heart feels like it is always racing and I can’t even take deep breaths. I’m so scared to have another panic attack, I barely want to leave the house." – Susan

"I know it’s not rational but since I’ve become pregnant I keep having this constant sense of dread. Like something terrible is going to happen to my husband, and I will be left alone and pregnant. I text him several times a day to reassure myself he’s okay, but it doesn’t make me feel better for very long. I just hate being alone now." – Anjali

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural, adaptive response we experience when we feel unsafe or threatened. We can experience many kinds of “threats” to the safety of ourselves and/or our loved ones. Sometimes we are anxious about something specific (e.g., waiting for the results of a diagnostic test). Some threats feel more vague, like a general sense that something bad will happen. We may also experience anxiety to a threat we are imagining in our heads, like picturing a loved one getting into an accident.

We can experience anxiety in these areas:
  • In our bodies (increased heart rate, sore stomach, tight chest and throat, shallow breathing, loss of appetite, difficulty falling or staying asleep, etc.)
  • In our mind (racing thoughts about the future; imagining the worst-case scenario; ruminating; worrying and obsessing, etc.)
  • In our actions or behaviours (avoiding certain situations, activities, places, or people; over-controlling; asking others for constant reassurance; checking things repeatedly; being extra careful and vigilant of danger, etc.)
Other possible signs of anxiety during pregnancy:
  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty sleeping
  • irritability
  • muscle tension (grinding teeth, neck and shoulder pain, back pain, muscle twitching)
  • difficulty concentrating and focusing
  • forgetfulness

For more information on anxiety, see What is Anxiety?

 

Everyone experiences anxiety differently

   

Anjali experiences anxiety in her body as a racing heart and a clenched feeling in her chest. She has anxious thoughts such as “What if I lose this baby too?” and “What if there is vital information I don’t know about that could save my unborn baby?” and “What if I’m going to be a terrible mother and I ruin my child’s life?” As a result, her behaviours include constantly asking for reassurance from friends and caregivers, reading and re-reading parenting books and blogs for hours, and avoiding being around her friends and family.

   

Susan had a panic attack and experiences anxiety in her body as feelings of dizziness and shakiness, a racing heart, and difficulty breathing. She has anxious thoughts about having another panic attack, such as “I am going to pass out!” As a result, some of her anxious behaviour includes avoiding places that remind her of her panic attack, like the playground she used to go to with her son. She also avoids activities that could bring on the same body sensations. For example, she takes stairs really slowly to keep her heart rate from speeding up.



How common is anxiety during pregnancy?

Anxiety is very common during pregnancy, and by some measures even more common than depression. Factors that could increase the chances of experiencing high anxiety during pregnancy include:

  • history of high anxiety and/or depression
  • perfectionism (believing you should not make any mistakes and do everything just right)
  • history of miscarriage(s)
  • high-risk pregnancy
  • major life stressors (such as marital or financial problems)