Not all pregnancies are a blissful time for the parents-to-be. Some pregnancies are shrouded in anxiety. You may find yourself lying awake at night wondering if there will be a healthy baby at the end of this journey.
Others may mean well and tell you not to worry. The empty words leave you feeling more isolated than ever. You know that this pregnancy is not guaranteed to end happily.
Your worry is justified.
And yet, this pregnancy is something that you wanted and that brings you joy and hope. How can you be both happy with the new life in you while you are concerned about losing it at the same time?
Anxiety as a sign of mental health
The purpose of anxiety is still to protect us from dangers that threaten… our existence or values that we identify with our existence.Rollo May
Anxiety is unavoidable in life. As humans we experience anxiety because it serves a life-protecting purpose. Without anxiety, our life span would be short. Anxiety reminds us to remain vigilant on the dangers that could end our lives as we know it.
The life that we value may not only end in death. We may lose our health, relationships, or our psychological well-being. There are many losses that could end our lives as we know it and value it.
Healthy anxiety in pregnancy
Fortunately, few pregnancies in the developed world threaten the expectant mother’s existence. However, a pregnancy can threaten the values of the mother- and father-to-be.
A high-risk pregnancy threatens a couple’s desire to have a child of their own. Becoming parents and having a family is a deep-seated core need for many couples. Losing that opportunity to become parents is a loss of a relationship with an unborn child.
Your concern over the life and well-being of your unborn child is an indication that this baby is wanted and loved by you. Your anxiety is healthy.
If your pregnancy is high-risk but you are not worried about the baby, it would indicate that you have numbed yourself and have disconnected emotionally from the baby. Apathy would be an indication that you have given up the desire to become a parent.
How to manage your uneasiness in pregnancy?
I am not going to suggest ways in which your anxiety will go away completely. Not only would that be unhealthy but it would not be possible without strong medication. However, I do want your anxiety levels to come down to manageable levels. I also want you to use the remaining anxiety to your benefit.
1. Connect with your core values
Harness your anxiety for your benefit by using its energy to increase your awareness and love for life. Use the energy of your anxiety to focus on living your life to the fullest according to your core values and beliefs.
Ask yourself: What core values do I have? What core beliefs do I hold? Which moral principles do I live by?
2. Assess what gives you meaning in life
Your anxiety may be telling you that you are aware of the limitations of human life. No matter how omnipotent or in control we want to be, the truth is that as humans we have to accept that there are non-negotiable aspects to our lives.
Your anxiety may be telling you that you need to re-evaluate and question your sources of meaning.
Ask yourself: What gives me a sense of meaning in life? My culture? The pursuit of material goods? Meeting cultural expectations? Or, perhaps in intellectual or artistic creativity and discovery? Am I looking for meaning from the right places and in the best of ways?
3. Listen to your anxiety
Your anxiety is alerting you to something important. Listening to your anxiety doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything it is telling you. Don’t try to avoid or push away your anxious thoughts. They will only get louder if you do. Attend to your anxiety with care and curiosity.
Ask yourself: If your anxiety could speak, what would it say? What is the problem that your anxiety is trying to communicate with you? Is there a relationship that needs repair? A miscommunication that has gone on for too long?
Or, maybe you have expectations of yourself, or this pregnancy, that you cannot meet right now? Have you placed unrealistic or too many expectations on yourself?
4. Connect with your creativity and sense of adventure
Anxiety holds a lot of energy. You can harness this energy to create something new. You can paint, write, dance, or use your imagination to build something.
Ask yourself: Instead of trying to avoid and lessen your anxiety, can you express it in a creative way?
You can use our free Ask Yourself series workbooks to help you get to know yourself and your values better.
- You are not alone. Many generations of parents before you have lived through these anxious days and nights. Many will come after you. Maybe you want to join a discussion forum or read success stories of other parents?
- Create rituals that help mark the passage of hours and days. During my last pregnancy where I spent months on bed rest, I would drink a cup of chamomile tea every evening to not only mark bedtime but also reward myself for yet another day that I got through. I also hoped it would calm me enough to help me sleep but that never worked!
- Do something that is enjoyable and distracting. Re-read your favourite books or watch movies that make you feel good. It is ok not to focus on self-development all the time.
When it becomes too much
If you recognize that you are struggling to manage your anxiety levels and can’t find a way to turn that uneasy energy into something positive, seek help from a trained mental health professional. It could be that the roots of your anxiety are in a past difficult experience that you need help in unpacking and resolving.
Just remember anxiety is not a sign of failure. And more importantly, any difficulties with managing your anxiety on your own is not failure either! Most of us need a bit of help and support in working through tough experiences and getting through tough times. You can reach Dr Ava and Matleena at The MapleTree Center if you need extra support.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.