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How to Cope With Pandemic Stress During Pregnancy

Part 2: More self-care tips to help you and your baby.

Key points

  • Mental health concerns often arise in pregnancy; consciously reflecting on any changes in well-being is valuable.
  • Especially during the pandemic, pregnant people may be dealing with increased stress.
  • Attentive self-care can help people cope with pregnancy- and pandemic-related stress.

While pregnancy can evoke mental health concerns anytime, individuals who are pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic may be more at risk as these major stressors collide. Fostering mental wellness during this time is critical, as stress can have adverse physical and mental consequences for Mom, baby, and the family system. Yet, stress management during this time is no easy task.

This is part two in a series of tips provided to help you foster self-care and wellness while pregnant in the pandemic. If you missed it, take a moment to read part one.

Set boundaries.

In times when you are stressed, it is likely that your energy will be depleted. Boundaries are always important; however, whenever your tank is low, it’s particularly important to conserve. Think about the different aspects of your wellness (physical, social, digital, etc.). In which areas are you running low? What types of boundaries can you create to maintain and potentially foster this energy?

Say, for example, you notice that your digital boundaries have been lacking. Due to the pandemic, you may have found yourself using your devices more than in 2019. Sure, there may be positive reasons, such as wishing to connect with loved ones and show them the bump they can’t see in person, but even well-intentioned efforts can drain your energy.

Sometimes this happens without you even noticing. Holman and colleagues highlight that COVID-related media exposure is associated with acute stress and depressive symptoms. While you may think you’re innocently scrolling on an app to check in with your loved ones, you could be exposing yourself to stressors.

In a scenario such as this, perhaps you create a time limit for yourself for how long you will allow yourself to be tethered to your gadgets. You are encouraged to be creative with your boundaries: Maybe this limit is enforced by setting a timer, by getting usage updates from your phone, or by deleting apps altogether.

Even if you are skeptical that boundaries are imperative at this moment, consider planning ahead. Being prepared with boundaries tends to make them more effective when needed as opposed to trying to reflect on and form them in the moment. Also, consider that both the pandemic and pregnancy are long-term events. If you are fortunate enough not to need them immediately, forming and adjusting to them can help you withstand both combined marathons.

Create your support system.

When stressed, it can become easy to isolate yourself. According to Mental Health America, 70 percent of individuals reaching out for help reported that loneliness and isolation were within their top three concerns. Yet, social support is a key factor in mental wellness, and this is especially so for individuals who are experiencing pregnancy in the pandemic.

Take a mental inventory of your life. Who is available to support you? Some of you may be able to easily make a list, while some of you may need to be a bit more creative with how you define support.

Working backward from your birth plan, consider who is involved in your health journey. Is there a physician you trust? A midwife? Or perhaps a doula? These individuals can help to support you with their expertise by answering questions and calming anxieties in areas that are unfamiliar to you.

Loved ones can play an important role; however, especially while physically distancing for safety, this isn’t always an option. While you may be Zoomed out, virtual options can be a pillar of support. This may include video calls or texts with friends and family from afar, but it can also be a new group of parents who are facing the pandemic just like you.

Sift through advice.

Pregnancy is a time in which you may experience a wave of advice from loved ones and strangers alike. Especially if this is your first pregnancy, you may notice an increase in solicited and unsolicited opinions about your journey. In addition, this process may continue well into your parenthood journey. Therefore, one way you can better cope is to come up with a method to help you sift through the information that is helpful for you and the excess information that is overwhelming for you.

One way to do this is to stay informed. Take the initiative to proactively consider your questions and utilize your resources. Your resources may include listening to podcasts, reading reputable books, finding evidence-based articles, and consulting with trusted providers. Having a firm foundation will help you to know when an opinion needs to go in one ear and out the other or be taken to heart.

Not everyone will realize that their advice is unsolicited or potentially stressful. Many times, these folks are well-intentioned and simply want to help you cope during this time. To make the most of this, consider who in your support system you are comfortable seeking information from. This allows you to proactively ask specific questions that can help them to better help you.

Make space for gratitude.

It is easy to become distracted by negativity. Especially during difficult times, such as a pandemic, a pattern of negativity can develop if we are not careful. This negativity breeds stress, which is unhelpful for both Mom and baby.

With that being said, tough times are exactly that, and we cannot sprinkle them with glitter and call them better. Toxic positivity arises when we recognize the danger of negativity and go far the opposite way in order to foster happiness. To balance these extremes, create a space for gratitude.

Gratitude can help us broaden our perspective. It’s an excellent coping skill because it can be practiced at any time and it doesn’t cost a dime. If you catch yourself falling into negativity, try to reflect on all that you are grateful for, not to minimize your struggles, but to help you see what your struggles may be overshadowing. For example, you may be disappointed that you cannot have the baby shower you hoped to have, but if you widen your perspective, the ability to still connect with guests who would have been present is still a "present" in and of itself.

Talk to a therapist.

We commonly associate mental health problems with the post-partum period; however, symptoms can certainly develop sooner. Proactive attention to these concerns can help you to intervene sooner than later, and better promote your health and baby’s wellness as well. Kaitlyn Zipoli Agudelo, an experienced Nurse Practitioner and Certified Nurse Midwife at The Women's Center, encourages her patients to begin making a connection with a mental health professional early on in their pregnancies. While this is emphasized if the patient has a previous history, displays symptoms, or has multiple risk factors, in her holistic approach, Agudelo recognizes that proactive mental health care can be critical in preventing and managing pregnancy-related mental health problems.

This information is educational in nature and is in no way a substitute for therapy. If you notice that it is difficult to manage these suggestions, that may be a sign that you could benefit from working with a local mental health professional. You do not have to handle this alone, and you can find a trained clinician by reaching out to your insurance provider, local mental health organization, or searching for a provider in the Psychology Today directory.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States via phone at 1-800-273-8255 or chat.

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