Impacts of Perinatal Anxiety

First trimester

Read the previous part of the article: Possible Impacts of Anxiety Disorders

There can be many impacts on people who live with daily anxiety problems.

The first series of consequences stem from the behaviours that the person adopts to try and manage their anxiety. This person tries, for good or for bad, to diminish or prevent the occurrence of their discomfort. These repeated efforts to prevent their reactions lead to different impacts during their daily life, such as:

    1. Avoidance (behavioural or thought)
    2. Reassurance
    3. Behaviour that increases the feeling of security (excessive verification, over-control and overprotection)
    4. Other possible consequences

1. Avoidance

When the parent feels anxious and anguish, first, they can adopt two types of avoidance: 1) in their behaviour or 2) in their thoughts (cognitive).

  • Behavioural avoidance: is the most evident. It consists of avoiding what causes fear. We have seen some examples, such as delegating tasks for the child, avoiding places because of a fear of feeling bad.
  • Cognitive avoidance: refers to everything the parent can do to avoid thinking about what makes them anxious. It can be trying to think about something else, repeat things that make them feel safe or feel good.

2. Reassurance

Reassurance behaviour aims a lowering discomfort and trying to convince ones’ self that what they dread won’t happen. It can be constant demands for reassurance from the spouse, repeated medical visits. Often anxious parents think about strategies to not bother the people around them, which means that their needs for reassurance go unnoticed. For example, asking the other parent to go check if an object was left in the baby’s room, indirectly asking them to check if the baby’s okay.

3. Behaviour That Increases the Feeling of Security

Finally, behaviours can be developed that increase the feeling of security, adopted as a reaction to anxiety. Three very frequent ones occur – excessive verification, over-control and overprotection, which we can group together.

Excessive verification: Often done to ensure that everything is fine to reduce their anxiety. For example, constantly check for signs of health problems in themselves or the baby, even after having already had them checked. Spend a lot of time repeatedly checking the daycare bag, or regularly checking up on the babysitter.

Over-control and overprotection: both refer to behaviour adopted to control the environment, protect the child and lower their anxiety. For example, leave little space for others for the care of the baby. Prevent older children from doing activities so that nothing can happen to them.

These behaviours are the result of anxiety. They have important impacts on the parent’s quality of life. They can lower the anxiety over the short term, but it will always return. This increases fatigue and affects their relationships with others. For example, a dad can feel excluded from their children and each spouse can feel alone, separated from the other.

What’s unfortunate about over-control and overprotection is that often the dreaded consequences never occur, which will reinforce the person’s controlling behaviour. They think that they were right to be protective and controlling.

4. Other possible consequences of anxiety

High and persistent anxiety for a pregnant woman can affect their intra-uterine blood circulation and impact the baby’s growth and birth weight, and even lead to premature birth.  

Regarding attachment, we can say that anxiety can impact the development of the parent-child relationship. The effects of anxiety can also affect the couple’s relationship and lead to lower spousal satisfaction. Many parents avoid talking about certain subjects or doing activities to avoid triggering anxiety reactions that might occur in their partner.

Over-control and overprotection behaviours can have a medium—and long-term impact on the development of the child themselves, both for motor skill and social development. Preventing the baby from doing things or doing things for them will harm their autonomy and develop insecurity in the baby at the psychological level.

The consequences aren’t always evident. You need to pay particular attention to the comments of those around you, family and friends, to understand what is happening. Be more conscious of your reactions, what they provoke, the effects they have on your life, and how you can deal with these feelings over time. For me, this is the first step to exploring possible solutions.  

We can learn to understand our anxiety and better manage it gradually over time and, in the end, experience less distress.

Continue reading: Predisposing Factors for Anxiety during the Perinatal Period.

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