Panic Disorder and Pregnancy

How To Manage Panic Attacks While Pregnant

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Panic disorder and pregnancy. Always consult your doctor first. Photo © Microsoft

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that involves persistent and unexpected panic attacks. These attacks occur suddenly, bringing on feelings of fear, anxiety, nervousness, and apprehension. The emotional symptoms of panic attacks are typically experienced along with somatic sensations, such as accelerated heart rate, chest pain, lightheadedness, shaking, trembling, nausea, and numbness or tingling.

 

Panic disorder sufferers who become pregnant may feel concerned about how pregnancy will affect their symptoms and vice versa. Research studies have been mixed, some finding that panic attacks and anxiety increases during pregnancy. While other studies suggest pregnant women report a reduction in panic and anxiety symptoms.  

It is not possible to determine whether your panic attacks and other anxiety-related symptoms will be aggravated during pregnancy. However, there are some steps you can take to help cope with your symptoms during pregnancy and beyond. If you are worried about pregnancy and panic disorder, read ahead for some tips on how to manage panic attacks while pregnant. 

Consult with Your Doctor First

When it comes to pregnancy, it seems that everyone has his or her own personal anecdotes and steadfast opinions. For example, you may have a sister who shares her pregnancy experiences and advises you on what foods to avoid or perhaps you have an aunt who likes to tell you old wives tales and pregnancy myths.

Regardless of any advice you receive from others, always consult with your doctor first.

Let your doctor know what concerns you have about your panic disorder during pregnancy. Your doctor will be able to help you sort out fact from fiction. She will also be there to thoroughly discuss treatment options while pregnant, including potential risks and benefits of medications for panic disorder.

Work with a Therapist

Psychotherapy can help you get a better handle on your panic attacks while pregnant. Your first therapy session will involve talking about your symptoms, medical history, and current life stressors. Through the therapy process, you will gain a better understanding of your symptoms and develop ways to cope with your condition. Your therapist can also use psychoeducation to assist you in understanding your symptoms. The knowledge and support provided through therapy can help reduce fears related to your symptoms and offer a sense control of your panic attacks during pregnancy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms psychotherapy. CBT strives to shift negative thoughts and behaviors towards healthier perceptions and actions. For example, you may be experiencing anxiety-inducing thoughts, such as “Will my anxiety affect my pregnancy?” or “Does it upset the baby when I have a panic attack?” Such thoughts may contribute to increased feelings of fear, anxiety, and panic.

Through CBT, you can learn to identify and change these types of thinking patterns to more positive and less anxiety-provoking ones.

Relaxation techniques are also often learned through the CBT process. The stress felt throughout the body due to anxiety and panic can be lessened through the use of relaxation exercises. These techniques help you learn how to feel calmer, even when faced with anxiety. Some popular relaxation techniques include guided visualization, deep breathing techniques, and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

Spend Extra Time on Self-Care

Pregnancy is a special time in a woman’s life in which she is often more concerned about her physical health and wellbeing. Putting some extra time aside to take care of yourself may help relieve some of your stress and anxiety. Self-care practices include any activities that you can do to enhance your health and overall wellness. For example, your self-care activities can include some form of exercise, practicing stress management skills, and getting enough rest. Consult your doctor to discuss what activities are safe to participate in during pregnancy.

Keep a Support System

Having loved ones to turn to can help you cope with your fears and uncertainties about panic, anxiety, and pregnancy. Let trusted friends and family members know about your concerns and enlist them to be available should you have any type of emergency. You may not need to call anyone for assistance, but it can help reduce your anxiety just knowing that loved ones are there for you should you need them. 

Have a Postpartum Plan

You may have heard of postpartum depression, a term used to describe when women experience depression symptoms, such as feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, after the birth of her child. Similarly, women diagnosed with an anxiety disorder are at risk for increased anxiety after childbirth. Feelings of nervousness, fear, and isolation are common for new mothers.  

Fortunately, heightened anxiety and panic-related symptoms may be prevented with some preparation. Even though postpartum is typically a busy time for most women, it is important that you to follow up with your doctor and/or therapist about your panic disorder. Continue to work on your treatment plan goals, such as managing anxiety, coping with panic attacks, and dealing with loneliness. Having a postpartum plan can help you to maintain progress on your path towards recovery.

Sources:

Avni-Barron, O., & Wiegartz, P. S. Issues in Treating Anxiety Disorders in Pregnancy, Psych Central, Retrieved on October 15, 13.

Cohen, L. S., Sichel, D. A., Dimmock, J. A., & Rosenbaum, J. F. (1994). Impact of pregnancy on panic disorder: a case series. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 55(7), 284-288.

Hertzberg, T., & Wahlbeck, K. (1999). The impact of pregnancy and puerperium on panic disorder: a review. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 20(2), 59-64.

Rubinchik, S. M., Kablinger, A. S., Gardner, J. S. (2005). Medications for Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder During Pregnancy, The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 7(3), 100-105. 

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