Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychological disorders and they affect twice as many women as men. Also, 30% of women who become pregnant suffer from anxiety disorders. In fact, pregnancy can create or increase anxiety in women. Symptoms can, however, be successfully treated with available anxiety treatments so people who suffer from the disorder can lead productive lives. Unfortunately, many anxiety medications are contraindicated in women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant. So, which anxiety treatments are both effective and safe during pregnancy?
Common Anxiety Treatment Methods
Medication. Pharmaceuticals used to treat anxiety are effective for most people. But, women who are pregnant may be worried about using medications for fear of related birth defects. Pregnancy affects the rate at which the body absorbs, metabolizes and eliminates medications. Yet research has been inconclusive about whether specific fetal defects result from these changes. In fact, studies indicate that less than 10% of all medications have enough information compiled to establish whether they are safe to use during pregnancy.
Current research indicates that using antidepressants and benzodiazepines as anxiety treatments are effective and carry a low risk of birth defects. Specifically, the antidepressants Prozac, Celexa, Paxil and Zoloft, as well as benzodiazepines Valium, Xanax, Librium and Diazepam, have been shown to be useful. While some birth defects and other medical issues affecting mother and child have been reported, the risk is low when taking most medications.
In cases of severe anxiety, experts believe that risks to both mother and child could be greater if medication were stopped. The concern is that symptoms related to anxiety could reappear and create a greater danger. Statistics have shown that untreated anxiety has been associated with negative pregnancy outcomes. If it is necessary to stop taking prescribed medication during pregnancy, it is important to speak with a physician to determine how to safely be weaned off the medication.
Talk Therapy. Talk therapy can be an effective method of anxiety treatment, particularly when used in conjunction with medications. One form of talk therapy that has been shown to be particularly effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is designed to help people who suffer from anxiety disorders develop skills to better manage, cope with, and possibly prevent their symptoms. CBT focuses on how the individual thinks, feels and reacts — both physically and mentally — to stress. New coping skills are taught and used to identify patterns and triggers, and to challenge negative self-talk. The goal is to prompt individuals to increase behaviors that reduce symptoms and decrease unwanted behaviors.
Mind-Body Therapy. Research shows that mind-body therapies have been effective in decreasing anxiety levels in people who suffer from anxiety disorder. Studies are inconclusive, though, on whether mind-body therapies are as effective for women during pregnancy as they are for other people.
Mind-body therapies focus on the interaction between the mind and body. They explore the way in which spiritual, emotional and social factors affect individual behavior. Yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy and biofeedback are a few of the methods used to tap into the mind-body connection. The goal is to use this connection to promote self-knowledge, self-esteem and personal growth, which in turn can improve mood, the ability to cope with stress and resilience.
Mind-body anxiety treatments work in much the same way that CBT works, but through a different path. The individual is taught to be present in the moment and bring the mind, body and spirit into harmony. This act in turn creates mental relaxation, reduces negative self-talk triggered by stress and thus decreases anxiety. The hope is to create a mental pathway to better adapt and cope.
It is important to receive treatment for anxiety and continue it during pregnancy. Untreated anxiety in pregnant women has been shown to affect pregnancy outcomes. Negative impacts of untreated anxiety can include fetal distress, delivery issues, lower birth weights, preeclampsia (complications due to high blood pressure), placental abruption (where the placenta pulls away from the uterus and deprives the fetus of oxygen), lower Apgar scores (a measure of overall infant condition upon birth) and other issues. It is important for women to speak with their doctors to determine what is best for their individual situation.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1163270/ – Medications for Panic Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder During Pregnancy
http://www.cw.bc.ca/library/pdf/bcrmh_anxietyguide_final.pdf – Coping with anxiety during pregnancy and following the birth
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51473296 – Mind-body interventions during pregnancy for preventing or treating women’s anxiety