Every panic attack is a devastating event. Panic attacks are essentially periods of intense mental stress combined with very real physical symptoms that are so overwhelming that some people get hospitalized over concerns that they're suffering from a heart attack or other major health issue.
Panic attacks during pregnancy are even worse. When you're pregnant, you're already suffering from an emotional and stressful time, and often worried about the health of your baby. When you then suffer from panic attacks, it can turn your whole world upside down, and lead to a significantly stressful pregnancy and worries about your future.
Stop Your Anxiety Attacks
There are many potential causes of panic attacks during pregnancy. But no matter the cause, you need to stop these attacks as soon as you can. Find out how by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test today.
Panic Attacks Are Something Worth Treating
Panic attacks are not dangerous on their own. But when you're pregnant they can cause two different problems that are something you should worry about:
- Panic attacks can lead to physical and mental stress, which may affect the fetus's development.
- Panic attacks can lead to your own worries about the future, which may make it harder to adjust after having your baby.
Pregnancy is a time when maintaining your own mental health is so important. Take my anxiety test if you haven't yet to learn more about controlling your panic attacks forever.
Causes of Pregnancy Panic Attacks
Panic attacks themselves are a bit of a mystery to scientific research. Researchers know many of the issues that cause panic attacks, but it's not clear why some people are more prone to panic attacks than others.
It's the same with pregnancy. Scientists know many of the reasons that pregnant women are more prone to panic attacks, but it's not entirely clear why some women seem to get panic attacks while other's done. Most likely, there is some type of genetic ability to have a panic attack that affects some people and not others. However, this ability is triggered during pregnancy by any or all of the following:
- Hormonal Fluctuations This is the most commonly accepted reason for panic attacks during pregnancy. When the body goes through immense hormonal fluctuations, panic attacks appear more common. This makes sense because hormones affect emotional control and regulation, and also play a role in physical sensations and other issues which commonly trigger panic attacks.
- Significant Health Anxiety While it's not considered a "cause" of panic attacks in general, one of the issues that leads to panic attacks is an over-sensitivity to the way you feel. Those that spend too much time focused on their physical sensations appear to get panic attacks more often. This is absolutely a problem for pregnant women, since many are constantly monitoring the way they feel in order to make sure nothing is wrong with their pregnancy.
- Previous Panic Attacks It's highly likely that women that had a previous panic attack would become more prone to them when they're pregnant as well. Pregnancy causes so many of the same panic attack triggers and natural anxiety that women that have had panic attacks before seem highly likely to experience further anxiety and panic when they're pregnant and all of their worries become more prominent.
- Panic Attack Age It should also be noted that many women get pregnant around the ages where panic attacks become more likely anyway. Women that have panic attacks may have been more likely to get panic attacks anyway during periods of extreme stress in life, and their pregnancy simply happened to be the trigger.
There is also simply no denying that bringing a life into this world is stressful. Many women – even those excited about their pregnancy – have worries over what the rest of their life will be like once they give birth, and the amount of work and responsibility that causes. Panic attacks are always more likely during periods of intense anxiety, and there is simply no denying that pregnancy can cause this anxiety.
Finally, once someone has a panic attack they become more prone to having them in the future, and unfortunately pregnancy causes many different issues that can trigger these attacks. Any physical sensations – which is common during panic attacks – can trigger concerns that another attack is coming, and worry over whether or not these panic attacks are panic attacks at all, or signs that something is wrong with the pregnancy can be incredibly disconcerting.
How to Handle Panic Attacks During Pregnancy
The "what if" questions are one of the hardest parts for pregnant women to deal with. There is always going to be that question in the back of your mind about what happens if it's not a panic attack, and instead something is wrong with your health or the health of your baby.
There is little you can do to stop these questions other than accept and recognize the fact that they're caused by anxiety. Few people with anxiety attacks are ever able to convince themselves 100% that their issues are panic attacks and not some underlying health problems, and that's natural. But if you can at least acknowledge to yourself that you recognize your panic attacks are an issue, you'll give yourself a much better chance of finding a long term treatment that works.
You'll also need to make sure that you do the following:
- Regular Checkups Go to all of your regular pregnancy checkups. Knowing that your fetus and you are healthy and that the pregnancy is going along fine will at least quell some of your concerns over the way that you react to your panic.
- Learn More About Panic Attacks Make sure you understand as much as possible about panic attacks and what triggers the attacks. This is very important. Hyperventilation, for example, is a common panic attack trigger and one of the main reasons that symptoms occur. If you understand hyperventilation more, you'll find it a bit easier to stay calm when it happens.
- Relaxation Exercises There are many relaxation exercises that may help when you have panic attacks as well. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization are a few that are highly effective. If you can exercise as well or do yoga, that can be a big help. Talk to your doctor before starting any of these programs, however.
- Plan and Have Fun Make sure that you're planning for your own future – not just the future of your child – and that while pregnant you're also doing things that you find fun and enjoyable. Many pregnant women essentially put their lives on hold as they wait for the baby, but doing this causes you to focus too much on the present and not enough on the future.
No matter what, you should also start committing to some type of anxiety and panic attack treatment as well. You need to make sure that you're trying to counter your anxiety as best you can, otherwise your anxiety may overwhelm you and could affect you even after the baby is born.
I've helped many pregnant women overcome their anxiety. I start them all off with my free anxiety test. It's a test that looks at your symptoms to recommend a solution that addresses your anxiety directly in a way that works well for both short and long term treatment.
Gorsuch, Richard L., and Martha K. Key. Abnormalities of pregnancy as a function of anxiety and life stress. Psychosomatic Medicine 36.4 (1974): 352-362.
Field, Tiffany, et al. Pregnancy anxiety and comorbid depression and anger: effects on the fetus and neonate. Depression and Anxiety 17.3 (2003): 140-151.
Sutter-Dallay, A. L., et al. Women with anxiety disorders during pregnancy are at increased risk of intense postnatal depressive symptoms: a prospective survey of the MATQUID cohort. European psychiatry: the journal of the Association of European Psychiatrists 19.8 (2004): 459.
Cowley, D. S., and P. P. Roy-Byrne. Panic disorder during pregnancy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 10.3 (1989): 193-210.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.