It’s natural to be feeling stressed while pregnant - your body is going through a lot of changes and you can end up being bombarded with lots of contradicting advice or worrying about every symptom you feel. In fact, this last year has been the complete opposite of stress-free, which has left many women asking how to survive stress whilst pregnant. Just remember that these are unusual times and if you are feeling tense, anxious or even mildly stressed during your pregnancy right now it’s to be expected.
However, extreme stress and pregnancy can be a bad combination, and even high stress can be bad for your baby (check out our past blog on this topic). We know, we know, hearing that just probably made you more stressed right? Well this April is stress awareness month so we decided to help you ease some of that tension with an easy to understand breakdown of the impacts of stress on your pregnancy, and our top tips for stress-relief and relaxation.
Stress Awareness Month
Stress Awareness Month is all about drawing attention to the causes of stress in our lives, and to promote healthy ways to combat them. Stress can be totally different for each person and can stem from almost any part of your life. One of the first steps to fighting off some of that stress is to learn about your personal stressors and how to find some balance.
The Mental Health Foundation found that 74% of UK adults have felt too stressed and overwhelmed to cope with a situation at least once in their lives, so you can rest assured that you’re not alone in experiencing stress. And, of course, the current pandemic has created higher stress levels across all age groups in the last year.
Stress Awareness Month challenges us to do just one thing to benefit our wellbeing every day for 30 days and, with the tips we include in this article, it can be really easy to do.
The Impacts of Stress During Pregnancy
Stress can be brought on by many situations during pregnancy – ranging from pregnancy symptoms and discomfort, changes in your daily life or routines, juggling work and home life, relationships with family, emotional changes or mood swings, fears about labour, or worries about the future. These are all perfectly normal things for you to worry about but whilst pregnant it’s important to try to minimise the stress that you feel.
Prolonged extreme stress and pregnancy can cause health problems for you, such as high blood pressure (which can in turn lead to preeclampsia) or heart disease, and could increase chances of having your baby prematurely too. Feeling stressed is unpleasant for an expectant mother, it can make you feel unable to eat leading to weight loss or make you feel like eating more leading to weight gain, and can make the usual pregnancy symptoms, like morning sickness, more severe.
If you feel you have undergone extreme stress during your pregnancy its always best to talk to your doctor about it. We mentioned earlier that over 70% of UK adults have suffered from extreme stress so you will not be alone in raising this problem with a professional, and can be confident that your doctor will know the best type of support for your experience of extreme stress and pregnancy.
Pregnancy Stress and COVID-19
This has been a pretty rough year and many people’s mental health has taken a toll during the various lock downs around the country. For pregnant women stress may have been harder to cope with since you haven’t been able to mix with friends or family for support, or attend all the in-person classes and groups you may have wanted to.
If anxiety caused by the pandemic has left you feeling overly stressed this pregnancy we suggest you take some time to read up on all the available data surrounding pregnancy and covid. Now scientists have more available data, safety procedures for you and your baby are much clearer. In fact, the NHS website clearly states that there is no evidence you are more likely to get seriously ill from coronavirus if you are pregnant. Covid can pass to your baby if you catch it, but in the cases where this has happened the babies have all recovered. You are only in the ‘moderate risk’ group as a precaution, because even with a year’s worth of data, the virus is still new and there’s more to learn about it.
This means it is recommended that you stay at home and social distance as much as possible, stay away from anyone with coronavirus symptoms and wash your hands regularly. If you are being asked or want to go back into the office now there are clear guidelines from the government on this too. But you are still meant to attend all of your pregnancy scans and appointments, and can also reach your doctor by phone or video call.
Finding the Balance
It’s difficult to avoid stress right now, when everything is so uncertain, but we’ve followed the challenge set this Stress Awareness Month - to do one thing for your wellbeing each day – and pulled together a list of 10 recommendations to pick from.
1. Talk to someone you trust.
Even with more time on our hands during lockdown it can feel hard to pick up the phone and really talk to a trusted family member or friend. But it’s something important you can do on a daily basis. Whether it’s a zoom, a call, or even a chain of texts, getting something off your chest feels great, and catching up with an old friend (or hearing about someone else’s mundane lockdown routine) can take your mind off things, remind you of all the amazing support you have, and let you open up about what is bothering you.
2. Stay active.
We wrote a blog about the best ways to keep fit and healthy during pregnancy (and about the myths surrounding pregnancy exercise that you needn’t worry about!) Not only is exercise good for your physical health and that of your baby, it is also good for your mind. It’s a chance for some time alone with your thoughts, reduces stress and releases endorphins. Whether it’s a short daily workout at home, a walk or gentle jog, or an online yoga class, taking some time to look after yourself physically each day can make all the difference.
3. Ask for practical help.
Ask your partner or housemate to take over some of your daily chores. Maybe they can cook for you, clean the kitchen, take the bins out, carry the shopping…. whatever you want. You’re pregnant! You get to be spoilt!
4. Take time to relax.
Be realistic about how much work you should be doing each day, and how much responsibility you should be taking on. You are allowed to say no and allowed to take time out for yourself. Especially whilst pregnant, rest is important, so take a minute for yourself each day with a relaxing bath, a meditation, listening to some music or getting a massage from your partner – and don’t over-work yourself.
5. Eat Properly
It’s important to maintain a nutritious and healthy diet whilst pregnant, it will benefit you, your baby and your mind! We put together this blog debunking some of the famous pregnancy food myths that might be stressing you out, and sorted out all the nutritional info you need to know for a healthy pregnancy too. This month, why not try to make one of your three meals a day an uber healthy one – it will leave you feeling great!
6. Connect with New People
Just because you’re stuck at home, doesn’t mean you can’t connect with other expectant mothers or new parents. You could ask your midwife to recommend local services or groups, or get online yourself and find groups, events or forums, where you can connect with people having similar experiences to your own. Why not set time aside each day to spend half an hour looking for new groups, or connecting with new people you’ve recently made contact with.
7. Know that Pregnancy is Only Temporary
All the pregnancy niggles, aches and pains that may be causing you stress are temporary. It really helps to take time out to remind yourself that, good or bad, this pregnancy is for a finite period. Ask your healthcare providers for the best ways to handle your worries and keep reminding yourself that they will pass.
8. Try out an alternative therapy.
Alternative therapies are said to help with many pregnancy complaints, from nausea to joint pains, and stress. We assembled a list of great treatments to try, and ways to do them from home. So why not set aside an hour each day to try out some homeopathy, a massage or some relaxing aromatherapy as a way to take some time for yourself and relax at home.
9. Be aware of your stressors.
At the end of each day for the next month, make a note of things that stress you out – a particular colleague, a particular chore, long days, etc. Then try to avoid getting into situations where you are bothered by these things. You can also begin to notice signs that you are getting stressed, whether it’s mood swings, sleep problems, eating problems, etc. And when you recognise that you are getting stressed take the opportunity to deploy a stress management technique. A breathing exercise, a walk, or some other kind of relaxation. There are lots of online self-help programs you can do to find a stress management technique that works for you.
10. Focus on the positives.
You may not be able to go out and do everything you want to. But instead of getting stressed out by the ‘can’t’ focus on the ‘can’. If you are at home you have more time to spend with your housemate or partner, more time for hobbies, for reading, for cleaning out that drawer, for creativity, for decorating, for cooking…. basically for doing things you always wanted to do but never had time for! Make sure you set aside an hour each day to focus on this during Stress Awareness Month – it will help you survive your stress for the remainder of your pregnancy.
Feeling Stress While Pregnant
Feeling stress while pregnant is natural and normal. Extreme stress and pregnancy can be bad for you and for your baby (although don’t worry too much as it’s usually worse for you than your baby), however there are many ways you can combat stress at home, and your doctor or midwife will be well-versed in treating stress too.
The key message here is to just be kind to yourself, and to recognise when you do need a break. Treat your mind and body well, and they will look after you and your baby in return. So make time for yourself and try out some of these tips to remain relaxed, happy and stress-free during your pregnancy.