TETCHY? HELL YEAH!
Understand your emotions and deal with it
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.”
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.
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.