We asked Dr Michelle Tolfrey, Senior Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder and Clinical Director at Talking Heads, a London-based psychology service, for some advice that may help lower your anxiety levels.
1. Avoid the constant news updates
Of course it’s important to keep up to date with the official guidelines for pregnant women during this pandemic. But constantly checking the latest updates will only feed your anxiety.
Try to concentrate on what you need to know and ignore everything else. Only read trusted sources of information and avoid social media. You could try reading about what’s happening in the morning and then focus on other things for the rest of the day. Try to avoid any news exposure for at least an hour before going to bed.
If you want to avoid the news completely but are worried about missing any key updates, you could try asking your partner, friend, or family member to update you with relevant news.
2. Bring yourself back to this moment
Thinking about what might happen or the ‘what ifs?’ is a very normal response in these uncertain times. Humans like to feel in control of things, so looking for answers and trying to predict what will happen is just our brain’s way of trying to help us feel safe. But focussing excessively on these thoughts can become unhelpful because you will find yourself asking a lot of questions that you don’t have the answers for. Only now matters because this is what you can control. Focus on how you feel now and what you’re doing now.
For example, when you make a hot drink, stand and watch the kettle boil. Notice the sounds, smells and what you can see. Focus on each step. How does the teabag look when you squeeze it out? What pattern does the milk make when you pour it into the mug? Just notice – and without judgement, bring your mind back to what you are doing when it starts to get distracted.
Also, try to focus on your breathing and slowing down the rhythm to a soothing pace. You could try using an app to do this, such as Breathing Zone.
You could also practice a simple grounding exercise such as this one, from Michelle.
3. Call a friend or family member
Getting things off your chest and talking your worries through with an understanding and trustworthy friend, family member or work colleague can make all the difference. Talk to someone you love about how you’re feeling. Remember that you are not alone in how you are feeling
4. Be kind to yourself
Some anxiety is a natural reaction to what is happening in the world. Some pregnant women feel distressed or guilty about feeling anxious when everyone expects them to be happy, but it’s also natural to feel a bit anxious when you’re pregnant – and even more so now.
Don’t beat yourself up about this. These feelings are not your fault. Try to accept that it’s unlikely that you can rid yourself of these feelings completely. Instead, try to focus on relaxing as best you can. Try the calming breathing technique or download an app focusing on mental health, such as Headspace or Calm.
5. Focus on your wellbeing
Taking active steps to stay healthy and well will help you manage anxiety and make you feel more in control. Try to:
- stay active as best you can
- avoid caffeine
- don’t smoke or drink alcohol
- eat well
- drink plenty of water
- establish regular sleep habits.
There are also things you can do for yourself that are compassionate and self-soothing. You might want to think about putting together a self-soothing toolkit. Learning how to do things that can soothe and calm us is something we need to practice little and often. This makes them more likely to work when we really need them.
6. Distract yourself
If you find that your thoughts are spiralling out of control, it may help to try and distract yourself. Anxiety can make it very difficult to concentrate, so try to keep it simple. Read a magazine in the garden, do a jigsaw or crossword, knit, do some colouring in, have a bath or watch your favourite comedy. Simple pleasures count.
7. Remember that this too shall pass
There has been a lot of speculation about when this pandemic will end. Try to remember that this is not your job. All you need to do is focus on the fact that it WILL end, eventually. Focus on taking things one day at a time and be confident that you’ll get through this, too.
8. Talk to your midwife
Anxiety in pregnancy is very common and for many people it is likely to be heightened at the moment. Therefore it can sometimes be difficult to know whether your feelings are manageable or a sign of something more serious. Trust yourself. You're the best judge of whether your feelings are normal for you. Keep talking to those who are caring for you as they can explore if you might need some more support.
If you feel anxious a lot or have panic attacks during pregnancy, it’s important to ask for help. Tell your midwife or GP about how you feel.They will help you access the right treatment and support, if you need it.
You should be asked about your mental health at every contact with a health professional. If you are experiencing domestic violence, please tell your health professional who can provide information and support to keep you safe.
If you feel that you are struggling with your mental wellbeing, you can also self-refer to local IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) services in England. In Scotland, advice is available from Parentclub and NHS Inform.
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We're here to support you
Although we've had to temporarily close our support line as our midwives have moved to homeworking, our Tommy's midwives are still here to support you.
We are working hard to provide the best support and information we can during a time of extra anxiety and worry for pregnant women and their families.
Watch out for updates and contact us on the following platforms:
Maternity care is still essential during the COVID-19 pandemic and services are still running. If you have any concerns about your pregnancy, it’s important to call your GP, midwife, nearest early pregnancy unit or maternity unit as soon as possible.
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