Perinatal anxiety – signs, symptoms, causes and treatment

Perinatal anxiety is rarely talked about - find out what it is, what the symptoms are and how it differs from postnatal depression (PND) here

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We reckon just about every mum-to-be and new mum out there will have experienced anxiety at some point – whether about a baby scan, the birth or just, you know, the fact a newborn changes your life forever.

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But what about when that anxiety becomes a regular or everyday occurrence, is really starting to affect your mood and your daily life, and might even be causing uncomfortable physical symptoms?

If that sounds familiar, you might be experiencing perinatal anxiety.

So, what exactly is perinatal anxiety? How do you know if you have it, and how can you treat it? Find out here…

What is perinatal anxiety?

Perinatal anxiety is anxiety which comes on during pregnancy and in the 1st year of your baby’s life.

With conditions related to motherhood, we hear a lot of ‘prenatal’ and ‘postnatal’ – obviously meaning ‘before birth’ and ‘after birth’.

However, the prefix ‘peri’ means ‘about’ or ‘around’ – so the term refers to anxiety you experience during your pregnancy, after your baby’s been born, or both.

Sometimes, you might hear perinatal anxiety being referred to as prenatal or antenatal anxiety, if it occurs only during pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of perinatal anxiety?

There are loads of symptoms for anxiety, some of which might not necessarily be easy to pinpoint.

However, mental health charity Mind recommends looking out for the following emotional/mental symptoms:

  • feeling tense, nervous and on edge
  • having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
  • feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • feeling like other people can see that you’re anxious and are looking at you
  • feeling your mind is really busy with thoughts
  • dwelling on negative experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again (ruminating)
  • feeling restless and not being able to concentrate
  • feeling numb.

Mind also suggests keeping an eye out for these physical symptoms:

  • tense muscles and headaches
  • pins and needles
  • feeling light headed or dizzy
  • faster breathing
  • sweating or hot flushes
  • a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • raised blood pressure
  • difficulty sleeping
  • needing the toilet more frequently, or less frequently
  • churning in the pit of your stomach
  • experiencing panic attacks.

How is perinatal anxiety different from PND?

Mind notes it’s pretty common to experience perinatal anxiety and PND at the same time – however they are slightly different.

We’d say anxiety is more like a feeling of worry, nervousness, panic or dread. It’s overthinking things, feeling like you’ve got too much going on, and dwelling on the bad stuff.

PND is often associated with low mood, sadness, like a “dark cloud” is hanging over your head. Often, mums feel shame and guilt – like they’re a “bad mother” – when they’ve got PND.

Whatever your mental health struggle – whether it’s all of the above or a few specific symptoms – it’s SO important you seek help 🙏

Treatment for perinatal anxiety

The first step to keeping anxiety in check is to pay a visit to your GP.

They’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action – whether that’s counselling, CBT ‘talking therapy’ which aims to help you find ways to manage and cope with your feelings, or medication.

The important thing is you talk about your feelings – so, even if there’s a long waiting list for mental health services, you’ve still got to find a way to get those feelings out.

Writing them down, recording a private video or confiding in your partner/a friend/even an anonymous forum could all be possible alternatives while you wait.

The second step to helping deal with your anxiety is to practice a bit of self-care.

It’s pretty frustrating advice to hear at first – if you could ‘just relax’ you would, obviously – but we know from experience that it’s worth giving it a go, even if you don’t immediately feel the benefts.

Here are some things you can try:

  • Shift your thoughts to something else when you notice you’re feeling anxious
  • Get your blood pumping by going for a short walk
  • Do something you know you love, such as watching Netflix or running a hot bath
  • Try some calming breathing exercises. Our fave goes: breathe in for 4 seconds, out for 4, in for 7, out for 7, in for 8, out for 8, in for 4, out for 4, and so on…
  • Consider meditation, using an app like Headspace on your phone
  • Research more techniques via Mind, Anxiety UK and No Panic

Share your story

Do you have experience of perinatal anxiety? We’d love to hear from you if so – please do tell your tale in the comments below or over on Facebook!

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