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With 1 in 10 women suffering pregnancy anxiety, could mindfulness & relaxation techniques be game changers for mums-to-be?
One in 10 pregnant women suffers with anxiety, according to baby charity Tommy’s. Of course if this is you, your first port of call should always be your GP, but in fact mindfulness may well be just what the doctor ordered. Studies have shown that it can actually decrease the amount of stress hormone cortisol in your body. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the NHS now routinely recommends mindfulness techniques as part of a strategy for managing anxiety disorders.
With the boom in apps, courses and books extolling its virtues it’s impossible to ignore the relentless march of mindfulness into the mainstream. Many schools put mindfulness classes on the curriculum, and several big corporate giants, including Google, have adopted it, saying it leads to happier workers.
And thankfully, it’s not about sitting on a mountain chanting “ohm”. “Mindfulness simply means learning to pay attention to the present moment,” explains psychotherapist Eluned Gold from the Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University. It’s easy to slot into your life: all you need is a spare 10 minutes. “And the good news,” says Eluned, “is that pregnancy is the perfect time to start.”
Bask in being pregnant
Pregnancy is a rollercoaster (with your hormones on a constant loop-the-loop) – so be kind to yourself. “It brings us face-to-face with the fact that we’re not in charge of what’s going to happen,” says Eluned. “So it’s normal to feel anxious – but tell yourself ‘the thoughts I’m having right now are not the facts’.”
Let yourself bask in the joy of being pregnant, too, and try to notice how it makes you feel: Eluned says noticing and naming your emotions when they happen can enable you to take the rough with the smooth. And don’t forget to hit that pause button. Instead of worrying about what you need to do and buy, pause and prepare a list of key things. Yes, you’ll need nappies. No, you won’t need wipe warmers!
Pay attention to the moment
How many times a day do you notice your breathing? (Never, we’re guessing.) Yet it’s crucial to your wellbeing. “Set aside 10 minutes,” advises Eluned. “Choose a focus – I recommend concentrating on the sensations of the breath, the rise and fall of your chest. When your attention wanders, just bring it back to your chosen focus. And that’s it. It’s simple and, like other skills, gets simpler the more we do it.”
Try to practise during a routine activity – brushing your teeth for example, or waiting for the kettle to boil. “These are the times we’re not really noticing what’s happening right now,” says Eluned. “Use these times positively to practice paying attention to your present experience – the feel of your feet on the floor, the taste of minty toothpaste, your thoughts and emotions… This can help to bring your attention back to the here and now and stop your mind racing forward.”
Even better, use your bump as a built-in mindfulness alarm. “Whenever you feel your baby move, place your hands on your bump and, as you breathe, feel the rise and fall of your belly and any movements inside,” says Eluned.
Pregnancy relaxation techniques
It’s music to our ears that me-time is essential to mindfulness. But that doesn’t mean binge-watching the latest box set or trawling Instagram. “As a society we’ve become addicted to stimulation,” says Tessa Watt, founder of Quility, the first mindfulness app aimed at parents. Instead, she suggests, we need things in our life that are about calming, resetting and recharging. “Pregnancy is demanding, so it’s important to schedule in nourishing time,” she says. Whether that’s taking a nap, doing gentle exercise or relaxing into a bubble bath, it’s crucial to block time out for you.
“But be present with it,” advises Eluned. “Concentrate on feeling the warmth of the bath, the relief of putting your feet up and the sensation of feeling relaxed.” This is just the beginning of an amazing new chapter in your life, and your newly learnt mindfulness techniques can help you remember that…