Stress and Pregnancy
We have all heard how stress can affect us: heart rate increases, adrenaline and cortisol are released which arouses the sympathetic nervous system and reduces the parasympathetic nervous system. Digestion slows, sweating begins, pulse and blood pressure rise. All of these changes ready us for the fight or flight, because we must be in danger, right? We also have all heard that the long-term impact of chronic stress is detrimental to our health. It’s related to glucose metabolism issues, heart attacks, cancer, mood disorders and other ills.
Add to that a pregnancy. Pregnancy puts stress on the body. It increases the workload for all organ systems: elimination, circulation, digestion, respiratory. And during pregnancy, stress impacts you AND your baby. You already know that it is a lot of work to grow a human. Added stress can increase stress hormones and play a part in elevating blood sugar levels and disrupting glucose metabolism, affecting mood and well-being in general. The changes from stress can increase heart palpitations and put a strain on most bodily functions.
Toss in a global pandemic and there is stress is beyond belief. Being sick with COVID-19 can increase the risk to pregnancy as well. Blood clots and pre-eclampsia rates have been shown to rise after a pregnancy COVID-19 infection. In addition, people in our country are not in agreement on how to respond to this new virus. We are not united in how to behave, fighting with strangers, family and friends. How do we find the way through? Bear with me, there is still some hope.
Stress is neither good nor bad. It simply is. What we do with the excess, how we balance the hormones created, determines whether the impact is helpful or harmful. Stress does have some benefits. It helps us focus, run faster, move quicker. In a stressful birth situation, as a midwife, I am very appreciative for my stress response when I need to act quickly or use my muscles. It literally saves lives at times.
Stress reduction may not be possible for you currently. Children, full-time work, global pandemic, physical impact of pregnancy—you can’t change most of that. Rather than trying to reduce stress, I suggest stress resilience.
Find the things that fill your cup. Retrain your focus toward the little things that bring you joy, and allow gratitude to permeate your being. That does not mean ignoring the needs of your neighbors and family and friends, to only put yourself first. There is a time and a place for someone else’s needs to come before yours, but not continuously.
Stress resilience must be a daily practice. Stress hormones are balanced in several ways: moderate exercise, mindful breathing, prayer and meditation, adequate sleep, nutritious caloric intake, comfortable social time (not anxiety-producing social time), support and others. Create a daily routine with the small things that bring you joy: touching base with a trusted friend or partner, a good movie or book, a good cry, a bath or simply alone time.
The things that bring you joy and meet your needs might change over time. It’s okay to slow down and respond to your changing needs, just as you would respond to your child’s changing needs. Sometimes it IS as simple as shifting your focus. Though it may be impossible during times of crisis or increased stress, try not to dwell on the things you need to do or have. Instead, focus on the things you ALREADY have in your life that bring joy to your heart, and you might find your cup a little fuller.