Pregnancy naturally causes anxiety—then tack on a pandemic. Writer Julie Peters shares her journey and how working on stress-management skills helps.
You’re facing the big question: when (and whether) to have a baby? Then, you’re in the right situation, you feel ready, everyone is on board and—a global crisis hits. You’re pregnant—in a pandemic.
Most pregnant people know that it’s vital to stay relaxed while pregnant—stress hormones aren’t good for the baby. I find this Catch-22 kind of hilarious—if we feel the natural stresses of day-to-day life, we’re somehow already failing our poor unborn children, and, naturally, that makes us feel mega-stressed!
For the last 25 years, I’ve been turning to my yoga practice to deal with difficult things in my life, and being pregnant is no exception. Of course, my practice looks different: My body is bigger; my balance is off; and my blood pressure will absolutely not allow me to do any headstands, which is one of my favorite poses.
But, as I’ve learned over and over through many injuries, illnesses, and emotional states, yoga is always about what you can do. My practice is also about getting to know my body that day and taking care of it as best I can. Pregnancy is a fascinating practice in nonattachment because your body can feel really different from one day to the next.
It’s completely normal for pregnancy to cause some anxiety. During a pandemic, we not only have a virus with which to contend, but also the ambient anxiety of the daily news cycle, as well as the stress felt by everyone around us. Pregnancy can make us more sensitive, and thus a little more vulnerable not only to illnesses, but also to contagious emotions.
It’s okay. Obviously, stress and anxiety are a part of the world into which your baby is being born. The question isn’t how to get rid of stress, which is impossible, but, rather, how to manage it.
For me, the key is riding the inevitable waves of anxiety. When a wave comes up, I close my eyes and breathe deeply, allowing the sensations to move through my body. I name the anxious thoughts, which can remind me that I am (usually) catastrophizing—reacting as if an imaginary nightmare future is already happening. It helps to go over my plan B: What will I do if the worst happens? Having a plan can help me let go of anxiety about worst-case scenarios.
I can’t protect myself or my baby from all stress, but I can protect us from some. I take frequent breaks from news and social media. I avoid scary movies and TV shows, and play online Scabble or work on a jigsaw puzzle instead. For some people, it’s helpful to talk things out with a partner, a friend, or a counselor. (Read about four ways to mindfully consume news during the pandemic.)
Yoga is one of the safest forms of exercise for a pregnant body. It can help calm us down, ease aches and pains, and it might even help make labor and delivery a little easier. Prenatal yoga classes are especially helpful and may connect you to a community of others going through the same thing, even if the classes are virtual.
There’s no question about it, being pregnant during a pandemic is stressful. But so, too, is life. I know that one of the best ways for me to teach my baby good life skills is to work on those skills myself. So I’m taking this strange and precious time as an opportunity to practice putting my stress-management skills to work. I can’t avoid everything scary or bad in the world, but I can practice resilience, which is a skill that will benefit both me and my baby for a lifetime.
Read about 10 ways to instantly calm yourself down.