Think about the words most of us associate with pregnancy: radiant, glowing, Madonna, contented, happy, awesome.
Now guess which words are most commonly associated with pregnancy according to Google, asks stress expert Alice Domar. Try tired, morning sickness, stretch marks, big, worry, uncomfortable.
That disconnect comes as a surprise to many of us who expected to spend nine months in a thrilled, joyful glow of cute clothes and nursery planning, says Domar, founder and executive director of the Domar Centers for Mind/Body Health and a part-time associate clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School.
“There’s lots more to pregnancy than you see on Facebook—more physical and psychological challenges,” she told me. “If you’re pregnant and feeling anxious, blue, exhausted, disappointed, or conflicted, here’s the word I’d use to describe you: normal.”
That doesn’t mean it’s easy.
What helps: expecting the full 360-range of human emotions—and knowing a few simple strategies to calm the less pleasant ones.
Try these five winners from Domar’s latest book, Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom: Tools for Reducing Stress, Anxiety, and Mood Swings During Your Pregnancy:
#1: Stop, breathe, reflect, and choose
Use it when: A negative or stressful thought pops up and won’t let go. There are four parts:
- Stop: Picture a stop sign.
- Breathe: Slow down and take a few slow breaths.
- Reflect: Ask yourself, “What’s really going on here?”
- Choose: Make a choice to do something that will make you feel better—whether it’s taking a walk, talking to your partner or care provider, having a cup of tea, or reframing the thought in a more positive way.
#2: Simple mindfulness
Use it when: You’re dogged by the endless mental chattering of thoughts that make you sad, uncomfortable, or worried.
Being mindful—paying closer attention to whatever you’re physically doing at the moment, even if it’s just sitting still—gives you a break from what’s going on in your head that’s bringing you down, Domar says. It’s great to use while walking, eating, or taking a bath.
To pay attention, tune into your senses to consider:
- What do I hear?
- What do I feel?
- What do I smell?
- What do I see?
- What do I taste?
This simple re-focusing—bringing the present to the forefront of your attention—crowds out negative thoughts in a calming way.
#3: The four questions
Use it when: You find yourself dwelling on a specific unpleasant thought—for example, fearing an upcoming pregnancy test or fretting that you’ll never be able to fit into your favorite jeans again.
The idea is to evaluate your thought for truth and logic so that you can separate out what’s purely emotional and irrational. Then see if you can rephrase it in a way that’s logical and true.
Ask yourself four simple questions:
- Does this thought contribute to my stress?
- Where did I this thought come from? (From something someone said to me? My fear speaking?)
- Is this a logical thought?
- Is this thought true?
For example, “I’ll never get my body back!” is a stressful idea that’s probably grounded in fear as you see your body changing so rapidly. (It’s not like your doctor told you this.) But it isn’t logical because many moms do get back in shape, and there are many things you can do about it. Besides, it’s not logical to say “never.” And it isn’t a true statement because you can’t know what will happen in the future.
Restated: “Okay, I’m scared about gaining baby weight, but I can’t know what’s going to happen after she’s born— and I know there are ways I can try to take care of myself and eat right and exercise and, with time, get back in shape.”
#4: A formula for better couples communication
Use it when: You’re upset with your partner—say, you’re disagreeing about baby plans or don’t feel supported because of something your partner did or said (or didn’t do or say).
Instead of homing in with accusations, try expressing what’s bugging you in terms of your reaction. Domar’s favorite formula for this:
“It makes me feel __________ when you _________ because ________________.”
#5: What do I need?
Use it when: You’re feeling any kind of physical or emotional discomfort. Self-nurturing (taking care of yourself with love and kindness) is one key to a happy pregnancy that’s within your control.
Ask yourself: “What will make me feel…”
- …more energetic?
Sounds simple…but for this: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get,” Domar says. (And asking YOURSELF first makes it easier for you to let others help.)
Everybody gets stressed sometimes
Even Domar, who’s considered a pioneer in the use of mind/body medicine in women’s health, told me her morning sickness was so intense that she once told her mom, “I changed my mind!” about having a baby. (Oops, too late!)
There’s no “right” way to feel during pregnancy, she says. And how you feel can shift from month to month and day to day. That’s partly why her reassuring book covers specific anxieties from the first signs of conception through postpartum. But here’s a sign you’re on the right track:
“Feeling happy and overwhelmed at the same time is the definition of a normal pregnancy.”