Trying to reduce stress can be...stressful. I know you want to enjoy life. Whether you are trying to conceive, pregnant, or postpartum, you want to create a peaceful and healthy environment for your family. You want to relax. But you also live in the real world, and likely have an amazing amount of demands on you.
The reasons you are stressed are understandable, but the impact is very real. We all know that stress impacts us and isn’t good for our health, and yet so often we find ourselves powering through. Unfortunately, when we are pregnant we will put up with a lot, but the second it impacts our baby… well, now that’s a different story.
So I am going to share a little about the risks of stress in pregnancy, not because I want to scare you, but because I want you to take this seriously. Take it seriously for yourself and your health. Take it seriously for your baby and their health.
Here’s what we know:
Pregnant people with stress have elevated inflammatory activity, as noted by increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines. This uptick in inflammation is thought to increase the risk of allergies and asthma in children.¹ We also see that maternal anxiety during pregnancy has been associated with increased levels of stress hormones in their 10-year-old children, suggesting that anxiety during pregnancy may program our childrens’ stress responsiveness.²
Even if you aren’t pregnant right now, I hope this information helps you see how profoundly stress can impact us.
If you are starting to panic, please hear me: no blame, no shame here. I dealt with an immense amount of stress in my first pregnancy, including 24-hour shifts and life-threatening medical situations with my patients. I’ve had a lot of adrenaline rushing through my veins in pregnancy. Did it impact my kids? Probably. Am I still an incredible mother? Yep. You are too.
You cannot control or eliminate every stressor in your life. But, there are some sources of stress you can do something about. In fact, you might be experiencing anxiety from places you are not even consciously aware of.
Here are three common sources of sneaky stress, and what you can do to regain control.
Information is empowering. But with the sheer volume of information available today, it’s easy to tip the scales from helpful to harmful. If you’re like me (a little bit of a perfectionist or achiever) you want to make sure you have the BEST information. This easily leads to information overwhelm.
You’re not just going to listen to anyone. And there’s wisdom in that. But, how do you feel after spending hours researching online? I’m willing to bet it doesn’t bring more peace.
In fact, I bet you feel drained.
It’s HARD to tease out who and what to trust. You start second-guessing yourself, creating even more stress. Then you stress about the fact that you are stressing and the impact it’s having on your baby. It’s a vicious cycle!
What you can do…
First, let’s acknowledge what a wonderful place all this pressure is coming from. You want the best for yourself and your family. That's not a bad thing!
Next, check-in with yourself BEFORE you start searching for the “right” answer. If you’re feeling stressed, your inner perfectionist is likely to take over, telling you “just one more search and then you will feel at peace.”
Do some simple stress-reducing activities to release the tension before you search for answers. Take a step outside and breathe in some fresh air, ask your partner for a 20-second hug, put on your favorite song, and dance around the room.
It also helps to have a single source of expert information you can trust. Choose who you will listen to and who you can tune out. However, realize that the greatest expert on you and your family is YOU. Try letting go of the constant need to know the “right” answer and tune into what you really need.
Before I learned how to deal with my inner voice, she ran me ragged. In my first pregnancy, I was exhausted and nauseous, yet I kept thinking something must be wrong with me. Other people seemed able to keep up, but I couldn’t.
When I tried to relax a voice would say “Don’t be lazy.” I wanted to be gentle with myself, but kept hearing “Did you really try hard enough?”
This is the dark side of perfectionism and achievement-orientation. While your internal drive motivates you to do great things, it can also push you too hard and make you feel guilty when you aren’t doing or accomplishing anything.
It has you always considering what you “should” do instead of what you want to do. This creates a steady source of stress. You deserve to slow down and enjoy your life. You deserve to rest and relax without guilt or worrying that you aren’t doing enough.
What you can do…
It’s important to realize that your inner critic is coming from a very vulnerable place. You want to be loved. You want others to tell you you are doing a great job. You want to be included. Unfortunately, your inner critic feels that the only way to receive these things is by earning them.
The next time you feel this pressure and hear that voice, picture it as a version of yourself. Tell her it's okay. She doesn’t have to be perfect. Tell her you love her and ask her “what do you want or need?” This is an important step in deprogramming yourself from the messages about worth, productivity, and success you have been fed since you were a young child.
It’s important to know that this voice will always be with you. You aren’t getting rid of your drive, your dreams or goals. But once you see the voice for what it really is, you take away its power and can start cultivating a deeper, kinder love for yourself.
I know...I get it. You take pride in being the strong one. You are often the one others look to for help.
You personally never ask for help, so people assume you never need it. People assume you’re okay because you look okay — you carry yourself well. And most of the time, you are okay.
But the isolation and pressure to always be the strong one creates a hidden stress in life. You will have days when you are not as strong when you just can’t juggle all things. Then there are the bad days...when you’re so tired or overwhelmed, you can hardly put one foot in front of the other.
It’s stressful when you don’t really know who to turn to for help on a tough day. It can leave you feeling unseen or overwhelmed… and if we are honest sometimes it just feels lonely.
What you can do...
I understand how it feels to be the “strong” friend; the one who has it all together. I know letting people in to see the messy and less self-assured parts of yourself is off-putting and sometimes downright scary.
But it’s important to let other people in. This can be your partner, but you’ll also want a group of friends to support you along your pregnancy journey. Seek out other achievers and try to foster a group where you support each other and take turns being the strong one.
Just remember — you deserve to be cared for just like everyone else. This was a main motivating factor in creating my community, Sterling Parents. It’s a safe place where you can relax, put your guard down and enjoy the support you so deeply deserve.
If these sneaky stresses are resonating, know that you are not alone. As a board-certified ObGyn, I’ve walked this journey with hundreds of women. But you now have some tools to recognize and handle the anxiety that so easily sneaks upon us.
Keep these techniques top of mind so you know how to respond when anxiety comes (which it will). As you begin to quiet your inner critic and relentless drive, you’ll be able to tune into your own inner wisdom.
Starting today, I want you to listen to yourself more so that you can experience more clarity and calm. I promise you already know so much more than you realize.
Join Dr. Sterling’s Email Tribe and never miss an article or tip that could help you!