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Anxiety Attacks During Pregnancy

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Anxiety Attacks During Pregnancy

Pregnancy may represent something genuinely happy and exciting, but pregnancy itself can be very stressful. Your body goes through considerable hormonal changes. You feel aches and pains you never felt before. You have to worry about your own health, worry about the health of the fetus, and worry about how you're going to live your life once you bring a baby into this world.

Pregnancy may also increase your risk of developing anxiety attacks, and when you're pregnant these attacks can be an incredible challenge. This article explores the relationship between pregnancy and panic attacks and suggests possible treatment options.

The Health of Anxiety Attacks

Any time you experience some of the stresses of an anxiety attack, it's never a bad idea to visit a doctor just in case. Pregnancy does have many complications, and it can often be hard to tell the difference between an anxiety attack and something more serious.

What is an Anxiety Attack

Anxiety attacks are extremely stressful events - especially for pregnant women. Often referred to as "panic attacks," anxiety attacks are moments of intense anxiety that manifest in physical symptoms. During an anxiety attack, you're likely to experience:

  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Lightheadedness or feeling faint.
  • Chest pains.
  • Leg and muscle weakness or tingling.
  • Trouble thinking.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dizziness.

These are the same symptoms that anyone with an anxiety attack experiences, regardless of pregnancy. What tends to cause more problems is the feeling of doom. During an anxiety attack (which usually peaks about 10 minutes in), there is often this incredibly intense feeling of doom, usually about your health. That's why so many of those with anxiety attacks end up visiting a doctor.

When you are pregnant, your concerns about the health of the child can increase the effects of your anxiety attack dramatically, because now you're worrying about the health of two, not just your own.

That's why anxiety attacks represent such a serious issue for those that are pregnant. That level of anxiety can be devastating and make your quality of life worse, and since doctors recommend trying to be as stress-free as possible when you're with child, controlling your anxiety attacks becomes very important.

What Causes Anxiety Attacks in Pregnant Women?

Every person is different. What makes pregnancy unique is that there are several different issues that may occur when you go through pregnancy that may bring on anxiety attacks:

  • You may have anxiety attacks as a result of hormonal changes during pregnancy.
  • You may have anxiety attacks as a result of the stress and worries of pregnancy.
  • You may have already suffered from anxiety attacks and they become worse during pregnancy.
  • You may simply be at an age when developing anxiety attacks is more common.

Some doctors have found that those that normally have anxiety attacks actually stop having anxiety attacks while pregnant, only to find that they come back once the child is born. It's amazing the way pregnancy can affect the mind and body both in physical and mental ways.

So claiming a cause and effect with pregnancy and anxiety attacks is not that simple, and certainly cannot be done through the Internet. But there are plenty of possible causes of anxiety attacks related to your pregnancy.

How to Prevent Future Anxiety Attacks

When anxiety attacks are caused by hormonal changes, controlling them is possible but a bit more difficult. You cannot and should not stop these hormonal changes from happening, and that means that when your brain creates these panic attacks as a result of your hormones, it's going to continue to do so until your hormones return to normal.

But that doesn't mean that you need to live with anxiety attacks throughout your pregnancy. There are several important things to note:

  • Preventing Recurrence Post-Pregnancy It's important to realize that some people that develop anxiety attacks never lose them, even when they are the result of pregnancy hormonal changes. That is because the fear of an anxiety attack and the experience of an anxiety attack can be severe enough that you increase your risk for triggering them in the future. Dealing with anxiety attacks should always be a priority.
  • Reducing Severity There are strategies that reduce the severity of an anxiety attack even if they do not cure it altogether. The less severe your anxiety attacks, the less they'll affect the quality of your life and the comfort of your pregnancy, and in some cases they may be easier to control.
  • Stress Control Even though anxiety attacks may feel as though they come from nowhere and that your hormonal issues may be solely to blame, the truth is that stress does play a role in triggering your anxiety attacks. Control your stress and anxiety, and your likelihood of experiencing an attack is reduced.

Also, the vast majority of anxiety attacks can be controlled even when they have a physical cause. It often takes a bit longer to control them because it involves recognizing and understanding emotions and experiences that are not entirely related to mental health, but they can still be controlled nonetheless without the use of medication.

That last point is key. Unfortunately, mental health medications are thoroughly unadvised for those who are pregnant. While this may limit your options for treating your mental health, it should be noted that most anxiety medications act as more of a crutch than they do an actual treatment. They may be valuable as a short-term solution, but most stop working in the long term, have many side effects, and can take away your ability to cope with stress further.

That's why you'll need to take advantage of medication-free options. There are several relaxation exercises that may be beneficial. If you have the room available, you may also want to create a relaxation room - a room dedicated to nothing but your own mental health. It should be a room that is:

  • Free of any clutter.
  • Free of any technology.
  • Free of any photos or bright lights.

It should be a room that is as quiet as possible that you can go into and experience nothing but a relaxing, quiet experience. This can be beneficial not only for dealing with your own stresses, but also for handling being a parent.

Finally, there is never a wrong time to consider broader anxiety-reduction strategies. These include therapy and lifestyle changes that you are able to adopt for the future. Even though pregnancy may play a role in these attacks, the lessons you learn and the help you receive may create some life-long change.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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