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How to Cope With Pregnancy and Pandemic Stress

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 any time, 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. Here are a few tips to help you foster self-care and wellness while pregnant in the pandemic.

Alicia Petresc/Unsplash
Source: Alicia Petresc/Unsplash

1. Be proactive.

When it comes to mental health, all too often we miss early signs or minimize symptoms as they arise. This allows the problem to grow and makes it more difficult to intervene. In addition, when it comes to pregnancy, the post-partum phase is often highlighted as a phase of concern while in reality, mental health problems can surface much sooner in pregnancy.

Preventative care allows us to capitalize on the times when we are primarily well and to amplify our strengths to best advocate for our needs. Further, early intervention has been shown to be helpful in treating perinatal mental health concerns. Taking a proactive stance in fostering your wellness can make you feel empowered and capable of handling the real stressors you are facing during this time.

2. Make time to reflect.

How are you doing? No really, how? You don’t have to respond in the socially appropriate way right now if that’s not your truth. Beware falling into the trap of “good” or “fine” because you think that’s what people what to hear. Being honest with yourself about your wellness will help you recognize what you need and when you need it.

How does your current response relate to how you would have typically answered before pregnancy? Or before the pandemic? Perhaps you have a history of anxiety or depression. Both the pandemic and pregnancy can bring past mental health concerns to the surface. On top of that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, mothers who previously had perinatal mental health concerns have a higher risk of developing them again. While this step is often overlooked, it is foundational when it comes to self-care. It’s easy to fall into the swirl of a hectic routine and miss signs of a problem because you are distracted, yet making this habitual can be a form of self-sabotage. Allow yourself the space to check in with yourself in order to better understand your needs.

3. Familiarize yourself with common concerns.

Self-care is the active process of recognizing and tending to your diverse needs. Recognizing that some concerns are common can help you to realize that you are not alone. While a dip into unpleasant emotions may prompt you to think that something is wrong, knowing the difference between a mental health concern and manageable hormonal shifts or the typical baby blues can help you to better discern how to care for yourself.

Informing yourself about common concerns in pregnancy allows you to understand your risk factors, spot symptoms, and intervene proactively. While perinatal mental health concerns are more common than not, they are also underdiagnosed, especially for women of color and low-income women. Expanding your knowledge about potential mental health issues in pregnancy can help you to be a better advocate for your wellness by recognizing a problem that may have otherwise been overlooked, even by a well-intentioned health professional.

You are already off to a great start by reading this article. However, other ways you can expand your insight include exploring reputable organizations such as the World Health Organization and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, speaking with your health providers, taking a pregnancy class, and seeking a maternal support group.

4. Pay attention to your stressors.

A key step in improving your self-care is to know what prompts your stress and how it affects you. Take time to consider what ignites your stress. Make note of the signs that you experience when these stressors arise. Then, reflect on what pushes you in that direction as well as what serves as a buffer.

For example, say you are stressed about childcare decisions. Perhaps you notice that getting asked about your childcare plans prompts unease while researching options in your area helps you to find a slight sense of relief. From this, you may opt to set boundaries with those who are curious about your plans and may value setting aside time to research what option is best for your little one. Knowing your stressors empowers you to be cognizant of your limits. Being aware of your limits also helps you to appropriately infuse timely coping skills.

5. Cue into your coping skills.

Since stress is an inevitable aspect of life, and both pregnancy and the pandemic are likely to ramp up your stress levels, it can be helpful to be proactive about coping. Your coping skills are the strategies that help you to reduce your stress and make your way closer to equilibrium. While you won’t be able to control it all, don’t lose sight of the reality that there are indeed things that you can manage.

Start with a reflection of what is within your ability to manage and what cannot be controlled. Narrow your focus to what you can practically do. For example, while you may not be able to attend a birth class in person, can you still receive some level of birthing preparation? In this context, reading a book, listening to a podcast, hiring a doula, or attending a virtual course could all be viable options.

While we all need coping skills, they do not necessarily look the same for everyone. What works for one person may not be effective for another. Be sure to honor your individuality by reflecting on what skills help you to manage your stress. Here are some general examples that may help to inspire you to brainstorm what goes into your coping kit:

This is part one of a two-part series on coping with pregnancy stress in the pandemic.

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 mental health professional. You do not have to handle this alone, and you can find a trained clinician by searching 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.

More from Shainna Ali Ph.D., LMHC, NCC
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