If you’re experiencing perinatal anxiety, as many women do, there’s no need to put up with it. Instead of waiting, there are evidence-based treatments to improve your quality of life right now. Some involve seeing a doctor or psychologist, and others you can do by yourself, at home.
Cognitive behavioural therapy and other psychotherapies
You might have guessed that psychotherapy is a common prenatal and postnatal anxiety treatment. Of all the “talk” therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has the most evidence behind it.
CBT helps you identify how your thoughts, emotions and behaviours influence each other. It involves challenging unhelpful ways of thinking, feeling and acting. You learn healthier habits and coping skills you can use right away.
For example, a 2020 study tested CBT as a prenatal and postanal anxiety treatment. The study involved group therapy sessions for 2 hours a week, over six weeks. Women who took part in therapy had lower anxiety, worry and stress than women waiting for treatment.
That’s more, these benefits lasted – or increased – during the three months after the therapy. Similarly, reviews of several studies also conclude that CBT helps women with perinatal anxiety.
CBT is not the only therapy you can try. Other psychotherapies used for prenatal and postnatal anxiety treatment include:
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- psychodynamic therapy
- interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT).
Are you worried about the cost of therapy? You and your GP can create a mental health treatment plan which gives you access to Medicare rebates.
Some therapies use mindfulness to achieve their results. For instance, therapies including acceptance and commitment therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment and how you’re thinking and feeling. For example, you can learn to recognise the early signs of anxiety and intervene. You might notice tension, sweatiness, a fast heartbeat or tummy trouble. Mindfulness lets you stop and breathe before jumping to conclusions or acting out of anxiety.
Healthy lifestyle habits
Just as nutritious food improves your physical health, of course, it improves your mental health too. To work out how diet affects perinatal anxiety, researchers in Brazil reviewed ten studies. Overall, they found a healthy pattern of eating links to lower anxiety. Eating well includes consuming whole foods like whole grains, fruit, vegetables, fish and dairy.
Exercise might also reduce your anxiety. For instance, a German study followed nearly 600 women from 20 weeks of pregnancy to 6 months after birth. Results showed that exercise predicted subsequent mental health. The more that women cut down their total physical activity, the more depression and anxiety they had. Your midwife and doctor can help you choose safe exercises for you.
Yoga is another type of movement that benefits well-being. A review of 13 studies showed yoga helps combat anxiety in pregnant women. Plus, yoga is another way to practise mindfulness.
Along with diet and exercise, our social lives are also an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Social support helps buffer the adverse effects of poor mental health. For example, a 2021 study looked at the impact of social support and negative thinking. For women with better support from friends, repetitive negative thoughts didn’t relate to prenatal anxiety.
Another recent study looked at the relationship between anxiety and life satisfaction – how happy you are with your life overall. Results showed that when pregnant women have better social s