Panic attacks during pregnancy aren’t pleasant, but how worried should we be? Why do they happen? Is there anything we can do to prevent them?
I’m a mum to a toddler and before I got pregnant, I never thought of myself as an anxious person. I’d never had a panic attack before I got pregnant. In fact, I’d rarely worried or stressed about anything. I was a remarkably, annoyingly, calm person. Then, in my first trimester, I was hit with one out of nowhere. One minute, I was completely fine. We’d just been to the cinema, we’d gone to the cafe for a drink and all of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified I’d pass out and I had no idea what was happening to me.
Unfortunately, this panic attack was far from an isolated incident — at one point, when I was seven months pregnant, I had four panic attacks in one week and I was terrified for the health of my baby. I’ve since learned that panic and anxiety attacks during pregnancy aren’t that uncommon. For anyone who might also be struggling with panic attacks during pregnancy, I’ve outlined what I’ve learned over the years.
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Anxiety Attack Vs Panic Attack
Before We get into things, let’s quickly discuss the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks. Although sometimes used interchangeably, the two are different, although they share similar symptoms.
One big difference is how they come about. While anxiety attacks often have a trigger, panic attacks can happen seemingly for no reason. Panic attacks also tend to come on quickly, while anxiety attacks can gradually become more intense, sometimes lasting days.
Panic Attack Symptoms
Panic attacks won’t feel exactly the same for everyone, but panic attack symptoms include:
- A racing pulse
- Pain in your chest
- Shortness of breath
Panic attacks tend to be over in about twenty minutes, but afterwards, you might feel physically exhausted from all the tension.
Risk Factors for Panic Attacks During Pregnancy
I was confused when I started having panic attacks, but now I’ve done my research, I do have certain risk factors for panic attacks, notably a family history of anxiety. If you’re worried about experiencing panic attacks during pregnancy, consider the following risk factors:
- You have very real stresses in your personal or professional life
- You have another mental health issue, such as depression
- Other members of your family have, or have had, panic attacks or anxiety disorder
- You have a generally anxious personality
- You have a chronic medical condition, including diabetes or heart disease
- You have had issues with alcohol or drug abuse in the past
- You are going through a stressful event, including divorce or bereavement
Interestingly, women are also more likely to suffer panic attacks than men, so it’s no surprise that so many women are worried about panic attacks during pregnancy.
Feelings of Guilt
Panic attacks during pregnancy might lead to feelings of guilt. If this is the case for you, please don’t blame yourself, and don’t feel guilty. I know it’s easier said than done, panicking about a panic attack can create a vicious cycle
You didn’t choose to experience these panic attacks — they’re happening to you. And feeling guilty won’t make things any better. All you can do is acknowledge what’s happening to you and reach out for help. This isn’t something you are going to snap out of — nor should you. Confide in your nearest and dearest and talk to your doctor. You need all the support you need, and so does your baby.
Panic Attacks: Coping Mechanisms
Panic attacks are never easy to navigate, and I don’t think they’re entirely possible to avoid altogether. But with the help of my mother, my husband and Doctor Google, I found a few coping mechanisms that worked for me:
- Remind yourself what’s going on. The first time you have a panic attack, it’ll likely be a scary experience. You won’t know what’s happening. But the second time, you might be more able to talk yourself through it. Tell yourself what’s happening. Understand you won’t die from a panic attack and try to remember you’ll be okay in a short amount of time. This knowledge might help you in the midst of an attack.
- Take deep, calming breaths. Do your best to take slow, regular breaths. Breathe in for five seconds, hold your breath, then slowly release. Hold for a second, then repeat until you feel things returning to normal.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques. One CBT technique has been known to help people ground themselves during a panic attack. Name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This method will force you to focus, while reconnecting you to the world around you.
- Focus on peaceful, relaxing images. Close my eyes and try to focus on calming images and scenes — anything that appeals to you and brings you peace.
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Reaching Out For Help
Asking for help isn’t always easy, but if you can manage to reach out, it can make your pregnancy much more pleasant. Your doctor will also be able to advise on topics such as postnatal depression, if you are more susceptible as a result.
There is so much that can be done to help you, including various therapies (from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to ‘talking’ therapies) and prescribed medicine. Anything that worries you is worth mentioning in your midwife appointments — they’re there to help you and they genuinely want to make your life as easy as possible.
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