Experiencing anxiety after a miscarriage is common and can have a significant impact on a person’s life. Someone who has recently experienced a pregnancy loss may find themselves feeling more anxious or worrisome than usual. This can be a normal part of the healing process, but if it starts to influence a person in negative ways, anxiety could be a sign of something more serious.
What Is Anxiety?
A diagnosable anxiety disorder is characterized by worries about any number of things that is present more days than not for at least six months. This is different from normal feelings of grief, worry, and sadness following a loss. Anxiety disorders are persistent, and can greatly impact someone’s life for a long period of time.1
Anxiety After a Miscarriage
Anxiety after miscarriage is not uncommon. One in four moms report lasting anxiety symptoms one month following a pregnancy loss, and one in five report symptoms after nine months. Additionally, mothers are more likely to experience perinatal anxiety than depression after a miscarriage.2
Anxiety after perinatal loss can include worry about fertility or future pregnancies, imagining future losses, concerns about current and future intimate relationships, and navigating grief with other children. New pregnancies can be affected by these anxieties, and expecting mothers may experience fear with every pain or twinge. This is further complicated when pregnant mothers feel guilty about the negative impact their anxiety has on their baby, or they worry about whether they will be able to bond with the new baby after birth.
The most common forms of anxiety experienced by mothers after a miscarriage include:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition in which a person worries about a variety of things from multiple domains of life. For example, a mother with GAD would not just be worried about the health of her children, but also about other people in her life, finances, her job, relationships, etc. What may start out as fears of another miscarriage or loss can grow and exacerbate. Moreover, grief can make this worse, especially if one is blaming themselves for the pregnancy loss or obsessing about what might have gone wrong.
Common symptoms of GAD following a miscarriage include:
- Worry about multiple areas of life
- Edginess, restlessness, or irritability
- Increased muscle aches or soreness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions and can affect someone who has lost a baby. OCD may start out as intrusive thoughts about past events or worries about the future. Over time, these can develop into obsessive thoughts. Compulsions are often used as an attempt to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions. For instance, someone who obsesses about germs may wash their hands obsessively.
OCD is common during the perinatal period, but not necessarily more common among mothers who had a miscarriage.3
The two OCD categories of OCD symptoms are:
- Compulsions: repetitive behaviors or mental acts equipped to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions. For example, someone experiencing OCD after a miscarriage may take pregnancy tests repeatedly or check for signs of fertility, or call the doctor frequently.
- Obsessions: repeated, persistent and unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety. These usually share a common theme like dirt/contamination, orderliness, or intrusive thoughts and images. Someone experiencing OCD-related obsessions after a miscarriage may ruminate about losing a future pregnancy, or the health of her other children.
Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
Acute stress disorder (ASD) describes a group of symptoms that can occur within the first month after a traumatic event. After a miscarriage, ASD may present as chest pain or pressure, racing heartbeat, sweating, nausea, or difficulty breathing. What may start out as normal reactions to grief can worsen and make it difficult for one to complete basic, everyday tasks. Acute stress disorder affects approximately 15% of women who have experienced a loss. Additionally, mothers with a history of physical, mental, or sexual abuse are at a higher risk. If symptoms remain after one month, they are considered PTSD.4
Common symptoms of ASD following a miscarriage include:
- Avoiding external reminders including people, places, or things that remind someone of the miscarriage
- Lack of emotional responsiveness; feeling numb or dazed
- Uncontrollable and intrusive distressing memories or thoughts
- Recurrent distressing or anxious dreams of the event
- Difficulty feeling positive emotions
- Memory loss for an important part of the traumatic event
- Difficulty sleeping
- Being easily started or hypervigilant1
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
If symptoms of ASD persist longer than a month after a mother’s miscarriage, this could be a sign of PTSD. PTSD is different from ASD in that the symptoms are persistent. Sometimes symptoms of PTSD decrease as time passes. However, someone experiencing these symptoms may need to seek professional help.
Common symptoms of PTSD following a miscarriage include:
- PTSD flashbacks
- Avoiding reminders of the loss
- Difficulty sleeping
- Racing or thumping heartbeat
- Feeling sweaty
- Repeated disturbing thoughts or images of the loss
7 Tips for Coping With Anxiety After a Miscarriage
Suffering from a miscarriage is often traumatic and heartbreaking. While nothing can take away the loss, there are ways to cope with the loss AND calm symptoms of anxiety.
Here are seven number tips for coping with post-miscarriage anxiety:
1. Talk About It
Miscarriage can be hard to talk about, because the experience is often misunderstood or minimized by others who haven’t been through it. It’s important to find an understanding friend, family member, or support group with whom you can talk about your feelings openly and process through the anxiety related to the loss.
2. Consider a Support Group
Connecting with others who have also experienced miscarriage can be a powerful way to heal. Postpartum Support International has local coordinators who can get you linked with support groups and resources near you.
3. Give Yourself Time
Healing after a miscarriage takes time. Allow yourself this period to heal and truly feel your emotions. Don’t feel pressured to rush into “getting over it” or trying again. You’ll know if or when you are ready. For now, allow yourself to rest, heal, and recover.4
4. Practice Mindfulness
Practicing mindfulness for anxiety can be beneficial, even when the anxiety is related to a loss. Mindfulness encourages a person to notice what’s happening in the current moment, without judgment. This includes allowing whatever feelings arise to be there, and simply noticing these sensations in a spirit of curiosity. For instance, if someone experiencing anxiety realizes that their heart is starting to race, they can simply say to themselves, “I notice my heart is racing”, and acknowledge the experience. While reducing anxious symptoms is not the direct goal of mindfulness, people often find that engaging in these practices helps them relax.
5. Practice Meditation
Practicing meditation for anxiety can also be helpful when coping with post-miscarriage anxiety. Meditation, like mindfulness, allows one to tune into the present moment, rather than focus on worries about the future or regrets about the past. There are many useful guided meditations available.
6. Try Breathwork
Breathwork can be beneficial, because it allows a person to focus on their body, rather than their thoughts and fears. One simple breath practice to try is to take a nice, long exhale; breathing in on a count of five and out on a count of seven. When feeling anxious or panicky, attempting to take deep breaths can make things worse, so focus instead on taking SLOW breaths.
7. Practice Positive Self-Talk
Remember that you are not at fault for your miscarriage. This is something that happened to you, not something you did. Try not to dwell on negative or self-defeating thoughts. Instead, have a list of affirmations that you can repeat to yourself when those negative thoughts pop up. Some ideas include “It’s not my fault,” “I’m OK,” “I’m doing the best I can,” “I’m getting better every day,” and “Just do one thing at a time.”
How to Support a Loved One With Anxiety After a Miscarriage
When someone you care about has experienced a miscarriage, it can be challenging to witness their pain. However, there are numerous ways a person can support their partner or loved one after they’ve experienced a miscarriage.
You can support a loved one struggling with anxiety after a miscarriage by:
- Avoiding the temptation to minimize the loss. Cliche’d statements like “ this is very common” or “you can try again” are not helpful, nor are statistics.
- Following their lead on whether they want to discuss the loss or not.
- Saying something–avoiding them because you don’t know what to say just makes things worse. Even a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” can be helpful.
- Avoiding giving unsolicited advice.
- Offering to listen if or when they want to share.
- Avoiding triggering language and being sensitive to how things might sound to your loved one.
- Being patient. Remember that overcoming anxiety after a miscarriage takes time and support, and there is no set timeline for healing.
When to Seek Professional Help
There is no shame in seeking professional help with overcoming post-miscarriage anxiety. If someone finds that they are unable to function in everyday life, they have difficulty sleeping or eating, or experience symptoms of an anxiety disorder, it’s important to reach out for help. These symptoms may not resolve on their own and could get worse. Even if someone does not experience significant symptoms, professional support can always be beneficial.
There are therapists available who have specialized training and experience in perinatal mental health and perinatal loss. Finding the right therapist may seem daunting, but there are resources to help. You may want to start by asking your Ob/Gyn or primary care physician for a referral. Therapists are also available via an online directory, and both therapists and psychiatrists may offer online treatment, too. For someone who is looking for parenting skills and tools–like helping other children cope after a loss and other parenting challenges–a parent coach can be helpful.
Some treatment options for post-miscarriage anxiety include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT for anxiety works by helping clients change negative thoughts that lead to feelings of anxiety. If someone is experiencing negative self-talk including blame, this could be a good fit.
- Family therapy: Family therapy is helpful after a miscarriage, because it allows family members to heal and grieve together, and support the person who experienced the miscarriage. A family therapist can assist the family in navigating tough emotions and moving forward together.
- Medications: A psychiatrist may be able to help with medications to reduce anxiety symptoms or help with sleep.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This trauma-focused therapy is very helpful for reprocessing traumatic aspects of the miscarriage and reducing symptoms of ASD and PTSD.
- Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS): IFS is based on the idea that we all have different parts within us–some parts that are wounded and others that try to control or protect the wounded ones. IFS therapy is helpful in healing the anxious, wounded parts and allowing the protective and controlling ones to experience calm.6
Experiencing a miscarriage can be life-changing, and anxiety following such an event is common. There are ways to overcome feelings of anxiety, find proper support, and heal after a loss. Remember, this is a time in which to take good care of yourself and allow yourself the space to recover. If symptoms are impacting your sleep, appetite, relationships, or daily functioning, reach out for help.