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Stress is defined as “the body’s reaction to any changes that require an adjustment or response.”
The body’s reaction to these changes involves physical, mental, and emotional responses. These can include physiological changes such as heart pounding, quickening of the breath, tensing muscles, and sweating.
How you react to these changes will determine how stress affects your health. Becoming pregnant is a life-changing experience that affects both your body and your emotions.
Your reaction to the changes will depend on your own personal, social, and/or financial circumstances. Therefore, every pregnancy has the possibility of different origins of stress.
Major Causes of Stress During Pregnancy
Different women can have different sources of stress during pregnancy, but some of the most commonly reported ones include:
- Pregnancy-related discomforts such as nausea and vomiting, constipation, fatigue, and back pain can be quite stressful.
- Concern about the well-being of your unborn child is a constant source of stress during pregnancy.
- Pregnancy-related hormonal changes can trigger mood swings and can make it more difficult to manage stress.
- The situation at home may cause stress, such as being a single parent or teenager and wondering how you will cope or experiencing relationship difficulties, which could include family violence.
- Working women have to deal with the added stress of their job and the responsibility of preparing their team before they go on maternity leave.
Damaging Effects of Stress for the Mother and Fetus During Pregnancy
Stress can make the normal discomforts of pregnancy, such as trouble sleeping, body aches, and morning sickness, even worse.
It can also affect your eating habits, where you may eat more or less, causing you to be either overweight or underweight or the more serious conditions of gestational diabetes or preterm labor.
High levels of stress may cause high blood pressure leading to the condition called preeclampsia and heart disease. (1)
Also, the way you respond to stress may lead to destructive coping methods, such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs. These can lead to long-term serious health issues for you and your baby. So, under no circumstances should you ever engage in these activities while being pregnant.
Certain stress-related hormones may play a role in causing certain pregnancy complications. (2) Your immune system, which protects you from infection, gets compromised, increasing your chances of getting an infection of the uterus. This type of infection can cause premature birth. Stress may also increase the chances of having a low-birth-weight baby. (2)
Stress not only affects the pregnancy but can contribute to health issues in your baby later in life. When you experience stress, the release of the cortisol hormone can affect your baby’s development and can increase the risk of developing depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obesity, muscle loss, heart illness, and osteoporosis.
If your baby is born preterm, it can develop digestive problems, respiratory issues, and low immunity. Babies with a low birth weight may have a weak or compromised immune system. (3)
Warning Signs of Extreme Stress During Pregnancy
Since the body responds to changes either by a physical, mental, or emotional response, the symptoms of stress can be categorized the same way.
- Physical symptoms can include chest pain, breathing difficulties, vision problems, headaches, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fatigue, muscle aches, stomach issues, and increased sweating.
- Mental symptoms may include confusion, nightmares, memory loss, changes in sleeping patterns, and difficulty focusing.
- Emotional symptoms can include grief, guilt, anxiety, irritability, fear, denial, worry, loneliness, and frustration, which can lead to isolation from family and friends, eating less, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Simple Ways to Control Emotional Stress During Pregnancy
It is normal to feel stressed during pregnancy. After all, it is a life-changing experience that involves changes to your body and emotions. Change by itself causes stress, and when you face an unknown, your mind conjures fears and illogical thoughts, which only intensify the emotion.
One thing that is for certain is there will be changes in every aspect of your life, so the best thing you can do for yourself is accept them, embrace them, and stay calm.
- The best way to stay calm is to stay in the moment and be mindful of the here and now and not of what will be. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The trick is as simple as breathing. When you take deep breaths, you are sending a message to the brain to calm down and relax. The brain then brings down your heart rate, regulates your breathing, and lowers your blood pressure, leading to a sense of relaxation. Once your body relaxes, you tend to see things more clearly, helping you assess the stressor that caused your body to react in a stressful manner.
- Sometimes, simple things such as household chores can be overwhelming, and the mere thought of them causes you stress. If it’s possible, ask for help when you need it and learn to trust others to do the work for you. Don’t be a perfectionist – the most important thing is that the task gets done.
- Learn to be flexible with your time and others; unnecessary rigidity can contribute to your stress. If you need to stay on a tight schedule during the week, then leave the weekend to be your play days. Now you have something to look forward to, and that thought alone can help calm you down and maybe even put a smile on your face.
Stress-Busting Physical Activities That Are Safe for Pregnant Women
The best activities you can do to reduce your stress is exercise and meditation, (4) and pregnancy yoga is the best of both worlds.
When you exercise, your brain releases serotonin, which is referred to as the happy chemical, as it is responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. (5)
When you perform yoga, you not only tone and stretch your body, but you also learn techniques for breathing, relaxation, and meditation. If yoga is not your thing, swimming is a great option because it keeps you toned, without being too hard on your joints.
Before you do anything, make sure that you consult your doctor and ask about an exercise regimen that you can use throughout your pregnancy.
One more thing – don’t be afraid to admit you need help, as this is not a sign of weakness. Although you may feel alone, there are other women out there who have either experienced pregnancy stress or are experiencing it at the same time you are.
Also, a great way to meet other pregnant women is through Lamaze classes. Sharing your experiences with others and learning from them will not only make you feel better but also help create a bond and a sense of community.
The everyday stress that you experience daily is perfectly normal and does not have a negative effect on your health. In fact, it’s normal to feel stressed at a time when you are experiencing physical and emotional changes, so don’t stress about stress.