Managing Emotions of Pregnancy During a Pandemic
By Marni Amsellem, PH.D., Clinical Psychologist
If you are expecting right now, congratulations to you!
Navigating the unexpected when you are expecting has been an age-old challenge. If you are currently pregnant, you are in the unique and novel position of navigating the unexpected within the greater context of pandemic-induced global uncertainty.
Few, if any, pregnancy books address the topics that have emerged in recent months, emerging policies to protect your health and safety that seem to be constantly in flux and the challenges that you are now facing. While there is a lot of advice out there on how to plan for the challenges of pregnancy, there is scant advice on how to go through a pregnancy during coronavirus. The rules are being written and edited every day. One thing does seem to be universally true during this time, however; this is not exactly what you had expected pregnancy to be like.
Pregnancy does not happen in a vacuum, particularly during a pandemic; there are likely many things impacting many aspects of your life right now. Many are also facing the realities of job loss and financial strain. Many are managing the challenges of working from home while simultaneously having other childcare or household-based responsibilities. Many are worrying about the health and safety of other family members or their larger communities. All of this is a lot.
TAKE INVENTORY OF YOUR EMOTIONS
How are you feeling about all of the changes you (and your body) are going through right now? If you haven’t taken the time to do this recently, why not check in on your emotions, right now. How are you feeling? The positive emotions as well as the negative ones? There may be a regular sense of excitement, but perhaps also a noticeable amount of fear, uncertainty, confusion, concern, or isolation. Your emotions may fluctuate; some may dominate.
Whatever you feel, know that it’s OK to feel these things. They are real, and they are affecting you. Allow yourself to feel them. Recognize that the hormones and bodily changes may exacerbate these emotions, and that is normal. Please be kind and compassionate to yourself whenever you are facing uncomfortable emotions.
YOU ARE NOT IN THIS ALONE
Loneliness is rampant right now; the side effect of our new lifestyles, driven by social distancing. We exchange hugs only with those with whom we live. We explore the outside world with facemasks on.
One of the most important messages to regularly remind yourself right now: You are not alone.
While some of your medical appointments may be virtual right now, your providers, who are navigating these procedural changes alongside you, will likely be reminding you of this. Your friends and family are still there for you, albeit they may be there for you at some distance. If you were planning to have a baby shower, you may opt for a virtual version (which may have the benefit of enabling your remote friends to attend). While there may not be hugs exchanged, know you are not alone. While most people in your network who offer you pregnancy wisdom haven’t exactly walked in your shoes, they can empathize, and no doubt they can still share some useful insights.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
Stress is inherent in life, and pregnancy is no exception. Particularly during these times. One of the greatest tasks for us every day of our lives is effectively managing our stress levels. Focus on what you can control and do not dwell on what you can’t control, find ways to experience calm and engage in activities that you find enjoyable, perhaps a creative outlet, a hobby, yoga, or meditation. Or reach out to a friend or relative and talk about something other than your pregnancy or current events!
Of course, there are a variety of actions you can take that make a difference in terms of how effectively you approach managing your emotions (and overall well-being). The following general tips will likely just reinforce what you already know: Stay physically active, in a way that works for your body at this point in your pregnancy, with the approval of your providers. Nurture your immune system by trying to get regular sleep, be mindful of what is in your diet, and hydrate. Find ways to stay active and engaged while at home.
FIND OUTLETS FOR YOUR EMOTIONS
Allowing yourself the opportunity to let it out and express your emotions is key. For your long term emotional health, it is important to make this effort. Identify some healthy means to acknowledge and express your difficult emotions. You may, for example, choose to write them down in a journal or compose a letter, talk to a relative, friend, or your partner, or speak with a therapist. If your emotions feel particularly heavy and are affecting how you feel more generally, it would definitely be wise to consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Part of being compassionate to yourself includes acknowledging when you could benefit from some help.
On the positive, the quarantine offers opportunities both to spend more time with your partner and to journal and record all that is going on around you and inside of you right now. Your baby will have a lot to read about, should you choose to share these thoughts one day!
This experience may just teach you that you really CAN do anything!
Marni Amsellem, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist based in metro NYC and Connecticut specializing in health psychology and helping her clients develop skills to navigate challenges and build resilience. In addition to having a private practice, she is an author and consultant. As a topic expert and researcher, Dr. Amsellem consults with hospitals, organizations, and companies on issues related to behavior change and health psychology. She has authored two books, The Big Idea Journal: A Tool for Facilitating Change and Bringing your Idea to Life and Navigating Relationships in Bipolar Disorder. Additionally, she writes about a variety of mental health, relationship, health, and prevention-focused topics in multiple media outlets (accessible on her website www.smarthealthpsych.com) and on Twitter (@smartpsychreads). More recently, she has launched www.writereflectgrow.com, an online community focused on journaling where she offers journaling-focused online and live workshops, journals (coming soon!), and other resources. Look for Write. Reflect. Grow. on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and stay tuned for announcements.