Perhaps one significant outcome for many during the COVID-19 pandemic is the self-realization of perseverance and resilience. This worldwide public health crisis has forever changed the everyday routines of most. Acceptance and adjustment to the new normal presents with substantial challenges for those with preexisting mental health conditions and those at greater risk of developing mental health disorders. Recent evidence identifies “pregnant women and women who recently gave birth,” as a population with increased vulnerability to “stress effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.” For pregnant women and women who have recently given birth, the demanding restrictions, guidelines and shelter in place ordinances may exacerbate and/or create anxiety inducing stressors.
What is anxiety and how does it differ from everyday reactions to challenges and/or stress factors? The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” Those suffering with anxiety disorders are said to experience recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns. Physical symptoms may include sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat. What differentiates a clinical diagnosis of an anxiety disorder from everyday reactionary anxiety pertains to the duration and frequency of symptoms and of course how well one responds towards or manages the challenge of the presenting anxiety inducing stressor.
Some pregnant women or those who have recently given birth may have a preexisting mental health disorder i.e. Generalized Anxiety disorder, Panic Disorder or some phobias. Because of compromised physical and mental health, hormone imbalance and/or matters of fatigue/sleep deprivation, pregnant women or women who recently gave birth are considered highly susceptible to developing anxiety disorders under emotional distress with or without the presence of a public health crisis.
More commonly, referenced or cited as Postpartum Depression, mental health challenges for pregnant and perinatal women (up to one year after delivery), may present in other forms of mental health issues including extreme anxiety or impulsive behaviors.
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) may begin during pregnancy with symptoms increasing as the pregnancy progresses or after giving birth. Having recently given birth, symptoms of depression may present as fatigue, sleep disturbance, an inability to concentrate and/or an inability to care for their newborn.
Despite the many challenges and stressors pregnant women or women who have recently given birth may endure, manageable and healthy behaviors remain a viable defense towards lessening the severity of the problem and/or may contribute greatly to the positive outcomes.
Ten Suggestions for pregnant women and women who have recently given birth, for managing anxiety during the COVID 19 pandemic:
1. Maintain consistent communication with your medical providers and/or affiliates (doulas, midwives or nurses). Guidelines and restrictions have only influenced how healthcare is administered, it has not halted services. Check with your medical provider to discuss alternative methods of communication including telehealth appointments/discussions, emails and/or text messages.
2. Use this time indoors to complete or create pregnancy related tasks including online shopping for infant care items and clothing or creating/finishing a nursery.
3. Encourage and allow yourself to rest as much as possible. Decrease fatigue and increase your energy with power naps.
4. If time and energy permit, create and store freezer friendly meals for quick and easy meal solutions.
5. Utilize or create a support system to complete projects most likely to decrease your energy or increase your risk of infection such as grocery shopping, running errands or childcare for older siblings.
6. Get creative. Develop a new hobby or get back to a forgotten hobby that entertains and provides fulfillment such as art projects or trying new recipes (freezer friendly meals).
7. Read or start writing the concept for that book you’ve been meaning to get to.
8. Try mindfulness techniques; focusing on and appreciating the present. Please checkout the following website and sign up to receive free daily emails containing mindfulness exercises; mindfulnessexercises.com.
9. Try guided imagery methods. Allow yourself 15 to 20 minutes to sit or lay still and think about a place, person or thing you find peaceful. Sit with the thought. Observe and study the thought. Express gratitude and appreciation for the thought. Please checkout the following website for free guided imagery scripts and recordings; innerhealthstudio.com.
10. Try breath exercises. Please checkout the following website for free breath exercises; Prenate.com/breath-exercises-for-pregnancy
Of course as with any form of physical activity, please discuss all suggestions with your medical provider prior to beginning