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When you’re pregnant, levels of worry can ramp up to never-before-seen levels.
Much of those nine months can be spent worrying obsessively about miscarriage, whether you’re eating or doing the right things to keep your baby healthy, whether your baby is moving enough, and the impending birth.
It’s a lot. So it’s perhaps no surprise then that one in 10 women will struggle with pregnancy anxiety, which can begin to rule their lives.
It’s the subject of Break Free From Maternal Anxiety, a new book penned by three NHS clinical psychologists: Dr Fiona Challacombe, Dr Catherine Green and Dr Victoria Bream.
The trio use cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) techniques to explore how women can cope with persistent and distressing worries about pregnancy and becoming a mother. Here are some of the things we learned from it.
1. Pretty much every mum-to-be will feel anxious at some point during their pregnancy
If you’re pregnant and feeling anxious, know you’re not alone.
From worries about whether your baby is moving enough to how you’ll cope with the birth (and all of the uncertainty that surrounds that), pretty much every mum-to-be on the planet will experience anxious thoughts at some point.
“They aren’t pleasant or comfortable and they certainly aren’t spoken about enough,” write the authors, “but they are a near universal part of pregnancy and parenthood.”
In fact, research has shown that 100% of new mothers experience intrusive, unwanted thoughts about something bad happening to their newborn in the first weeks after birth.
If you have the odd worry here and there, you probably don’t need to read a book on pregnancy anxiety. But if worries seem to crop up daily and they’re stopping you from doing things, read on.
2. ‘Problematic worry’ is something to watch out for
There’s a difference between the odd anxious thought and problematic worry, where you get stuck in repeated loops of negative anxious thinking that feel hard to stop, control or turn away from.
It’s one of the most common problems in pregnancy and postnatally, according to the book, with about 8% of women experiencing it.
The authors share the story of one mum, Hestia, who was 32 weeks pregnant and constantly worrying about every decision she made about her baby. Some worries she had included: ‘What if I haven’t included everything on my birth plan?’ and ‘What if lose my job when I am on maternity leave?’.
While some people might have these kinds of thoughts and move on, she would find it difficult to move her attention to other things and would become irritable, unable to concentrate on work or reading books and then she became reluctant to leave her house.
When anxiety starts to impact your day-to-day life, it’s time to seek help. As Dr Fiona Challacombe explains: “The perinatal period is a time of big changes, emotionally, physically and socially, so it’s often assumed that anxiety is a normal part of this.
“However, when anxiety persists and is having an impact on your daily life and functioning then it is likely to be an anxiety problem.”
3. Tackling worry isn’t about what you worry about, but the way you think about it.
One of the things the book is keen to convey is that rather than trying to tackle the worry itself, you need to focus on solutions which tackle the way that worry works.
A strategy the authors advise is to ask yourself whether the worry you are having is actually important – ie. will anyone else care about this tomorrow? Or will you care it about it on your deathbed?
If it isn’t important – and you firmly believe that – they recommend trying to continue with what you are doing, and if your worries come back, to treat them as white noise in the background.
If it is an important worry, then they recommend defining what the problem is that underlies the worry – and then generating as many solutions as possible for that problem.
4. Setting a ‘worry-free zone’ or planning a time to worry could help
Another way to tackle worry is to set a worry zone, say the authors. This is basically where you make a conscious decision to put your worries to one side for a set time in the day.
One idea they suggest is that whenever you have a snack, you can “try to focus away from worry and enjoy every second of your crisps or chocolate”.
It’s a well-used technique in CBT for worry problems, they add, and as you get more practice, you can try to increase the worry-free zones and take control.
It sounds weird but the clinical psychologists also suggest planning a time when you will worry, and deliberately postponing worrying until that specific time.
“This is a useful strategy to free yourself from the relentless worrying, by setting a particular time when you can come back to worries you have noted in the day,” they say.
There are tonnes of strategies like this in the book, as well as advice on coping with intrusive thoughts and phobias.
Dr Fiona Challacombe says: “CBT is a very effective treatment for persistent anxiety and our own research trials show that it can be effective for maternal anxiety in various forms.
“We have seen many parents use the techniques described in the book to get control of and overcome their anxiety, with benefits to them and their families.”
Break Free from Maternal Anxiety: A Self-Help Guide for Pregnancy, Birth and the First Postnatal Year will be published October 27 by Cambridge University Press (£12.99).
Help and support:
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.