When we are anxious, we usually want to do something, ANYTHING to feel better, even if only temporarily.
There are usually two common ways we try to reduce our anxiety:
1) Looking for a temporary anxiety “fix”
These are the things you do to feel better, temporarily.
- asking for repeated reassurances from friends and family that your pregnancy is developing normally
- asking for extra ultrasounds and other tests, just to make sure everything is fine
- spending hours on the Internet reading about pregnancy complications and birth defects
- trying to check the baby’s heartbeat at home throughout the day
Anjali is pregnant and very worried about whether her baby is developing normally. She sits still many times during the day to check that the baby is still moving. She is also concerned about the funny sensations she gets in her body, like twinges in her tummy and fluttering in her chest, even though her doctor has repeatedly assured her that these are normal feelings in pregnancy. She calls one of her sisters nearly every day to describe these feelings and ask her whether something might be going wrong with the baby. Anjali is also is spending hours on the Internet every day, looking up symptoms of pregnancy complications. She texts her husband several times a day to make sure he is okay, too.
Susan, who has begun having panic attacks, often takes her pulse to make sure it isn’t “too high.” She feels really anxious without her cell phone and will frequently return home to get it, even if it makes her late.
These are the things you don’t do so we can avoid feeling anxious, such as:
- not going to a nephew’s birthday party in case some of the children have germs
- not going on a short trip by yourself, even if your doctor or midwife has told you it is safe for you to travel
- avoiding a friend’s house because she has a cat, which could have toxoplasmosis
- not eating food in restaurants in case it makes you sick
- avoiding exercise in case you get hurt or feel breathless
- trying to reduce your exposure to everyday things such as wireless Internet, just in case they harm the fetus
Anjali has begun to avoid walking alone after dark or walking on certain streets at all. She would like to go to a prenatal exercise class, but she is afraid other pregnant women will notice how anxious she is and feel sorry for her unborn baby, having a mother who is such a “basket case.
Susan avoids any exercise that makes her feel her heart pounding. She avoids the playground where her first panic attack occurred, and, as time goes on, she avoids going out more and more. She is now so afraid of having a panic attack out in public that she has almost stopped leaving the house altogether.
What are THE COSTS to using quick fixes and avoidance?
Because these strategies can make us feel better in the short term, of course we are tempted to repeatedly use them. But there is a hidden cost: the more we use these strategies, the more likely our anxiety will stay and actually grow over time. So we may get a little bit of short-term relief, BUT we buy ourselves much more anxiety in the future. Avoidance and quick fixes can also cost a lot of time and energy; it can start to feel like a part-time job. To top it off, relying on these strategies can often lead to missed experiences and enjoyment in life.
So if quick fixes and avoidance don’t work, what can you do? The rest of this section will give you ideas for strategies that have been found to actually decrease anxiety in the long term.