How to cope with anxiety in pregnancy after loss

This Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re sharing a guest blog from Pregnancy & Postpartum Psychotherapist Sophie Harris, who has written about ways to cope with anxiety during a pregnancy after loss.
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Guest blog by Sophie Harris, a Pregnancy & Postpartum Psychotherapist.

Pregnancy after experiencing a previous loss can bring up a range of emotions. You may feel excited and hopeful whilst balancing fear and anxiety that something may go wrong. 

Some level of anxiety is totally normal and expected. However, for many, this anxiety can feel overwhelming. You may feel scared to bond with your baby, worried that it will be tempting fate for fear that something bad will happen. 

You will likely have many triggers for your anxiety during pregnancy. Attending ultrasound scans is a typical time for anxiety to peak. Or, for some, having conversations with others about being pregnant can feel triggering as you manage others' expectations of how you should be feeling. This can make many new mums feel isolated and alone during this time.

Not only are you navigating the emotional highs and lows of pregnancy, but you are doing this whilst managing the emotional impact of your previous loss. 

Whilst it's important to normalise experiencing stress during this period, you can also take some steps to help you regulate your anxiety. By following these steps on coping with pregnancy after loss, you can lessen some of the impacts of anxiety. This can help you create more moments where you feel calm and content.

Be kind to yourself

If ever there were a time for self-compassion, then it is now. Be patient with yourself whilst you go through this challenging chapter of your life.

Practise speaking to yourself with kindness during anxious moments. Try talking to yourself with the words that you would offer a friend. This may sound like, "I'm sorry that you feel this way. This is really tough. What can I do to help?" 

Speaking to yourself kindly can help you face challenges with a sense of compassion towards yourself. This can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

Make space for all your emotions – they will pass

No emotion lasts forever. However intense the feeling is at the time, it will go away again.

Try to make space for all of your emotions. It is entirely valid to feel like you are doing great one day, whilst the next you may feel consumed with worry or sadness.

It's okay to have good days and bad days. When you allow space for your emotions without suppressing them, they have room to pass and move on.

Get to know your anxiety

It can be helpful to recognise what happens when you feel anxious. This can involve understanding what your triggers are. Also, notice any physical symptoms you experience during anxious moments. Or, you may become aware of certain thinking styles, such as thinking of the worst-case scenario or being unable to accept reassurance.

Understanding your anxious patterns can help you build awareness and control your anxiety. You can learn to observe your anxiety without spiralling into a negative place.

Your thoughts are not facts

Your anxious thoughts may feel very real when you are triggered and worrying about your baby's health. However, it is essential to remember that your thoughts are not facts. 

When you experience anxious thoughts about something terrible happening, it is helpful to label it as an anxious thought rather than a reflection on reality.

Use grounding techniques

In times of big emotions, it can be helpful to find different ways to ground yourself in the present moment. 

For example, it may help you look at photos of happy memories, find certain smells that calm you or listen to music. 

Alternatively, using affirmations may be a supportive way to ground yourself. For example, you could try telling yourself, "I am safe. I am strong and capable. I am doing my best whilst growing my baby". 

Try to find what soothes you and brings you into the present moment.

Keep a worry diary

Writing down your worries can be a good way to deal with anxiety. Journalling your fears can help get them out of your head. The act of doing this can reduce rumination. 

Try recording your worries in a journal or on your phone. This can be particularly useful before bed to help clear your head before going to sleep.

Physical relaxation

Stress causes physical tension in your body. This tension tends to make your anxiety feel worse. Finding ways to reduce the physical pressure in your body will likely relieve some anxiety.

The simplest way to release physical tension is to breathe. Taking deep breaths into your belly can help you deliver oxygen to all parts of your body. This can help to relieve stress and anxiety.

Other ways of helping reduce physical tension in your body include eating a nutritious, balanced diet, spending time in nature, gentle exercise or a pregnancy massage. Find what works for you and aim to schedule this into your week.

Limit your internet searching

If you're feeling anxious, it can be tempting to search the internet for any symptoms or experiences you might be having. Unfortunately, internet searching can have a way of making you feel even more anxious. 

This is particularly true when using unverified sources or chat forums. These sources of information can often leave you feeling more confused or focusing on the worst-case scenario.

Instead, it might be helpful to limit your online consumption. You might choose to avoid searching specific topics, particularly if they tend to make you feel worse once you have searched them. 

If you choose to search for a health symptom, then aim to use verified sources such as Tommy's or the NHS website.

Connect with others

Pregnancy is a journey best taken when you have other people around you who get it. Having vulnerable conversations with others can help you realise that you are not alone. This can be even more beneficial if you can surround yourself with people who understand the complexities of going through pregnancy when you have experienced previous loss. 

Perhaps you know someone you trust and could reach out to for support? Alternatively, it can be helpful to link up with an antenatal class of other expecting mums. Aim to schedule in some opportunities to connect with others as often as possible.

Reach out for professional help

Does your anxiety feel consistently overwhelming, or stop you from enjoying your pregnancy? In this case, it may be helpful to get some professional support. You may be eligible for some NHS psychological therapy. Alternatively, there are a range of private therapists who can support you through your journey.
 

Sophie Harris is a psychotherapist specialising in helping new mums during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Through her work, she aims to normalise big emotions during the more difficult times, help mums improve their emotional wellbeing, and celebrate motherhood. She believes that supporting and valuing the role of a mother should be made a priority for a happier and healthier society. 

Visit Sophie's website and find out more about the support she offers here. You can also follow her on Instagram at @looking_after_mum.