Pregnant women who are already at risk for anxiety or depression may have higher stress levels from breaking news and changes to daily routines due to the novel coronavirus.
Pregnancy is a unique time and can put a woman at higher risk for anxiety or depression, especially if she has previously struggled with mental health. Mark Henick, a mental health advocate and speaker, says that public health events can be particularly hard for people who already struggle with anxiety, depression, or OCD (obsessive compulsive disorders).
Part of the heightened anxiety surrounding the coronavirus is due to three factors – unpredictability, uncontrollability, and the importance it currently has on the news and everyday conversations.
COVID-19 Virus and Pregnancy
Some pregnant women have questions about how the virus could affect them and their baby. Here is what we know so far:
Coronavirus does not seem to affect pregnant women any more than the general population. Since this is a new virus, how it may affect pregnant women is not yet clear.
More severe symptoms (e.g. pneumonia) appears more common in the elderly and people with weakened immune systems that may have a pre-existing condition (e.g. asthma). It is expected that if a pregnant woman contracts the virus then she may exhibit mild to moderate flu-like symptoms. Currently no pregnant woman has been reported to have died from the coronavirus.
How will the virus affect my baby if I receive a diagnosis with the infection?
As this is a new virus, there is not much data available yet. There is currently no evidence that it can result in pregnancy loss or transfer to a baby in utero. It is unlikely that women who get the virus will cause abnormalities in baby development.
Some babies who were born to women in China who contracted the virus were born prematurely, but it is unclear whether this was due to a pre-existing condition or linked to the virus.
What should I do if I’m not feeling well and exhibiting coronavirus like symptoms?
It is advised that if you are feeling unwell to self-isolate for 14 days after the last symptoms clear. Please also call your healthcare provider for further instruction and refrain from going to the ER at your local hospital.
Coping with increased stress during uncertain times while pregnant:
In these times of change and uncertainty, it is understandable to be feeling some stress. But stress is a risk factor for anxiety and depression – almost every study that has examined stress in pregnancy shows that high stress increases the chance of a pregnant woman developing depression and anxiety, or making depression and anxiety symptoms worse.
Our research has shown that women who have high stress in pregnancy often continue to experience high levels of stress a year after birth and beyond. In other words, without support, many women continue to have high levels of stress for a very long time.
When we talk about stress, we are referring to bad stress that is out-of-control, high intensity, and long-lasting. With the prediction for the first vaccines to be ready on the market in early 2021, this can be a long time for anyone, but especially someone going through a pregnancy.
The first tip for combating anxiety during the coronavirus outbreak while pregnant: Find a coping strategy.
Find a “coping strategy” – basically anything that makes you happy and takes your mind off the stressful situation at hand. The key to high intensity stress during these uncertain times is dialing it back so it becomes manageable. While we can’t always control stressful situations, there are some steps you can take to combat anxiety. It is okay to take a deep breath, talk to a friend about how you are feeling, laugh, read a book, sing, play with your pets, learn a new skill like baking bread… anything that makes you happy and helps you connect with another person.
Stay in touch.
While people may self-isolate out of fear of getting sick, it can be hugely beneficial to keep in touch and stay connected despite not attending in person events. Whether this is through telephone calls, text messaging, or other online ways, playing games together (e.g. Tabletop Simulator is an online based game simulator with a range of free board games), having that human connection can go a long way.
Maintain a balance with media intake.
While it is important to know what is happening, fear and anxiety may drive some people to check the news obsessively, which could cause further anxiety. Maintaining a balance on media intake may be helpful for you and your family, whether this means not checking the news first thing in the morning or at bedtime.
It is worth noting that when our attention is drawn to something, we are more likely to keep thinking about it, which in turn increases the perception of the risk, rather than the risk itself.
Seek out quality information.
Assess quality information such as the World Health Organization or your state health authority’s website. Unfortunately, social media can be a source of both quality information and misinformed information that causes unnecessary panic, so practicing mindfulness on how you take in information can help reduce anxiety.
Can you exercise even if you are staying indoors? Make it fun by pumping up the music, or follow along to an aerobics or Zumba video. Try Pilates, yoga, or tai chi. Do you own a stationary bike or have small weights? Moderate levels of exercise are excellent for reducing stress and releasing endorphins.
Try to get seven to eight hours pf sleep each night. Not getting enough sleep interferes with your ability to deal with stress. Adequate sleep can help you face each day with more calmness and reduce anxiety and depression in pregnancy and beyond.
Practice taking deep breaths and/or mindful meditation when you start to feel anxiety creeping in. Useful apps include Headspace and Expectful.
Help create a sense of community well-being.
Try not assume. To help create and maintain a positive and sense of community well-being for everybody, try to remember that the stress and virus can affect anyone, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.
While it is reasonable to be concerned, try to remember that researchers, medical staff, and public health experts all over the world are working hard to contain the virus, help those affected, and develop a vaccine. Federal governments worldwide have given out millions in research grants to teams studying the virus and developing treatments.
Even though this is a stressful time, we are all in this together, and will come through on the other side – together.
A version of this post originally appeared at Dr.DawnKingston.com.