TETCHY? HELL YEAH!

Un­der­stand your emo­tions and deal with it

Mother & Baby - - CONTENTS -

Ask any mum-to-be and she’ll agree that from the mo­ment you cel­e­brate a pos­i­tive preg­nancy test, your emo­tions start to go hay­wire. Sud­denly, you find your­self scream­ing at the fridge when the milk runs out, and snap­ping at your part­ner over the small­est things. “Preg­nancy comes with a real mix of feel­ings that aren’t talked about enough,” says peri­na­tal psy­chol­o­gist Ju­lianne Boutaleb. “And, yes, your hor­mones are partly to blame – but there are other fac­tors at play, too.” Be­cause, the very mo­ment you get preg­nant, your brain starts to change.

“One of the ar­eas most af­fected is the amyg­dala, a small al­mond­shaped part of your brain that’s in­volved in mon­i­tor­ing and as­sess­ing risk or threat,” ex­plains Ju­lianne. “Other ar­eas af­fected are as­so­ci­ated with so­cio-emo­tional pro­cess­ing”. Which all means that you feel more anx­ious, sen­si­tive and tetchy, and ev­ery­day is­sues like miss­ing a bus quickly turn into big deals. “Nor­mally you wouldn’t re­act to things like that,” says Ju­lianne. ‘But this ‘brain sculpt­ing’ may mean you’re slightly more sen­si­tive and over-re­ac­tive to in­ter­per­sonal is­sues dur­ing preg­nancy, es­pe­cially in your first and third trimester. Cou­pled with nau­sea and fa­tigue caus­ing higher-thanusual lev­els of stress hor­mones in your sys­tem, you’ll be more prone to mood swings, too.” But here’s how to deal with the drama that brings…

GIVE YOUR­SELF A BREAK

If you fly off the han­dle be­cause a col­league has missed you out of the tea round, don’t feel bad about your big re­ac­tion. It’s a symp­tom of preg­nancy, just like your swollen an­kles or newly sen­si­tive skin. “Re­search shows this tetch­i­ness is down to the amyg­dala re­act­ing be­fore your brain even re­alises you’ve re­acted!” says Ju­lianne. “There’s even a name for this over­re­ac­tion – ‘amyg­dala hi­jack’.” And this in­creased sen­si­tiv­ity will have a valu­able ben­e­fit once your baby ar­rives, mak­ing you more fine-tuned to his needs. So cut your­self some slack: “Be kind to your­self,” says Ju­lianne.

WHAT’S BUGGING YOU?

From al­ways be­ing the des­ig­nated driver on nights out, to your

part­ner snor­ing while you bat­tle preg­nancy in­som­nia, you’ll be find­ing lots to be an­noyed about right now. “Take some time to think about and recog­nise what you’re ir­ri­ta­ble about, and to pin­point what your trig­gers are,” sug­gests Ju­lianne. Writ­ing th­ese down will help you ac­knowl­edge your an­noy­ance, and be more ob­jec­tive about it. “Get­ting your thoughts down on pa­per may stop you ru­mi­nat­ing and over-think­ing sit­u­a­tions, which will bring down your lev­els of stress,” adds Ju­lianne. Spend a few min­utes a day adding to a run­ning list of pet hates on your phone – and sooner or later, you’ll start to see the funny side of some of them. Breathe. When you feel like you’re about to have a melt­down, just take a breath. “For best re­sults, try the four-seven-eight breath­ing tech­nique,” sug­gests Ju­lianne. “Breathe in for four se­conds, hold for seven se­conds, then let out a long, slow breath for eight se­conds, and re­peat three times. This slows your ag­i­tated brain down, and tells it firmly, ‘There is no threat here’. If you’re learn­ing other breath­ing tech­niques through a hyp­no­birthing class or MP3, prac­tise those too: “Don’t wait for labour!” says Ju­lianne. ‘Use them now and feel the ben­e­fits!”

RE­LEASE THE TEN­SION

On the verge of a blaz­ing row? Stop the blow-out stone cold by ditch­ing the phys­i­cal stress in your body. “Fo­cus on how your body is feel­ing, and men­tally scan it to work out where you’re car­ry­ing your stress,” says Ju­lianne. “Start at the top of your head and slowly scan all the way down to your toes. Per­haps your shoul­ders are tense? Then scrunch them up, hold for three se­conds, and then re­lease the ten­sion. Do­ing this reg­u­larly can help you to recog­nise and re­duce the stress you carry in your body.” If you feel this works for you, then down­load an app that talks you through pro­gres­sive mus­cle re­lax­ation. as cul­ti­vat­ing phys­i­cal calm will help re­store your emo­tional equi­lib­rium.

LOWER STRESS LEV­ELS

“Feel­ings of tetch­i­ness rise as the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol gath­ers pace across the trimesters,” says Ju­lianne. “But you can put the brake on those stress lev­els by en­gag­ing in ac­tiv­i­ties that switch on the rest-and-di­gest branch of your ner­vous sys­tem.” This might be hav­ing a mas­sage, ly­ing in a warm bath or lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast – what­ever it is that chills you out and lets you switch off. Ac­tively do­ing more of th­ese re­lax­ing ac­tiv­i­ties will give your stressed-out brain a chance to re­set be­tween those bursts of tetch­i­ness.

BUILD YOUR TRIBE

When you’re feel­ing su­per-ir­ri­ta­ble, talk it out with a friend or work­mate. “When you talk some­thing through with some­one you feel con­nected to, oxy­tocin will be re­leased in your brain and this can bal­ance out the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol,” ex­plains Ju­lianne. “Now you’re preg­nant, you’re more vul­ner­a­ble and need your re­la­tion­ships in a dif­fer­ent way. So you’ll need to work out who you can share your con­cerns with.” And it’s not only your friends who can help – on­line fo­rums give you the chance to chat to other mums-to-be. “They of­fer a win­dow into what’s nor­mal,’ says Ju­lianne, ‘and you can off­load and be hon­est in a way you some­times can’t to a close friend. And you’ll still get that calm­ing oxy­tocin ef­fect.”

GET AC­TIVE

We get it, put­ting on your work­out gear might be the last thing you want to do right now. But phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity re­ally is ridicu­lously good at re­leas­ing feel-good hor­mones and re­duc­ing stress lev­els. “Aim for slow and steady, which means you’ll get a re­lease of en­dor­phins without the adren­a­line kick­back of high-im­pact ex­er­cise,” sug­gests Ju­lianne. Walk­ing, yoga or aqua aer­o­bics are all per­fect and, for even more stress-bust­ing, do it with friends. “You’ll get a re­lease of oxy­tocin from be­ing in a group and feel­ing sup­ported,” says Ju­lianne.

RE­CON­NECT

Ar­gu­ing with, with­draw­ing from, or cling­ing to your part­ner are all signs that you don’t feel con­nected to him. And one rea­son you might be feel­ing quite so grumpy with him is that you feel you’re car­ry­ing his anx­i­ety as well as yours. “A good chat might be all it takes for you to re­con­nect, and it might well re­veal that your part­ner is just as anx­ious about par­ent­hood as you are, so you can share those feel­ings,” says Ju­lianne. In­sti­gate a chat while you’re walk­ing, driv­ing or do­ing a joint ac­tiv­ity, so you’re not face-to-face, and you’ll find your­self be­hav­ing far more ra­tio­nally to­wards him once you know he’s right there with you on this whole hav­ing-a-baby jour­ney.

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