Rebecca Gitter, DC Birth Doulas Central Group Doula, certified prenatal yoga instructor
Are you struggling with anxiety?
The unknown can be anxiety producing, even for those who don’t typically struggle with anxiety. Pregnancy and birth by their very nature contain a lot of unknowns, whether this is a first pregnancy or a second or third, as every pregnancy is different. Learning to handle that unease can be a challenge – but with a few techniques and a commitment to practice (even a few minutes a day or a few times a week) -you can reframe that into coping strategies that are helpful beyond pregnancy and birth.
With that in mind, here are a few tried and true techniques. We recommend trying and practicing a few so you have many tools in your toolkit. Try them in a relaxing environment – dim the lights (or try candlelight), play some soft music (or nature sounds), sit or lay comfortably, maybe even diffuse a favorite scent, and by all means invite a partner to join you.
Bring your attention to the top of your head. After every two breaths, move your attention down the body inviting yourself to relax (or soften) the next body part. Keep moving down the body until you feel relaxed all the way down to the feet.
As you experiment with the following breathing techniques, pay attention to how you feel. If changing your breath makes you feel dizzy or uncomfortable, go back to a natural breath and try later. All of these breaths are traditionally done in and out through the nose – but opening the mouth for the exhale may be more grounding, especially as you begin to practice:
Extended exhale: breathe normally and count how long it takes to breathe in. Then try extending your exhale for one or two counts. This slows your breathing and helps to stimulate the relaxation response in your body.
Breath counting: count each part of your breath until you get to 10 – if you get distracted and your mind wanders, start again. Breath in one, breath out two, breath in three, breath out four, etc. Keep practicing that easy technique to get centered and stay present. It might be very hard at first to get to 10, don’t be hard on yourself – applaud your commitment to try again another day.
Audible exhale: as you exhale, sigh. Think about making that sigh or another vowel sound if you like lower and slower each time. You may find after even a few of these breaths your body feels heavier and more relaxed.
This is one of my favorite grounding techniques. I often use it myself and use it with my own kids to help them when they have struggled with big emotions or stressful situations. From wherever you are, pause and find:
Five things you can see – you don’t have to name them, just count them – five concrete objects
Four sensations you can feel – perhaps your feet on the ground, clothes on your body, whatever you are sitting on, your partner’s hand on yours, two fingers touching
Three things you can hear – maybe a clock ticking, music playing, voices, your heartbeat, your breathing
Two things you can smell – the air, your lotion, your breath
One thing you can taste – our mouth always has a taste – but you can take a sip of something if it helps to make this easier to find.
Give these practices a try, even if you aren’t experiencing anxiety. They are wonderful relaxing techniques that you can pull out in a variety of situations.