Anxiety About Zika During Pregnancy

Ways to manage your worries about this new health threat

by Christiane Manzella, PhD

At Seleni, we provide mental health counseling to pregnant women, and these days we are having a lot of conversations with our patients about concerns related to the Zika virus. That's completely understandable.

You may have already discovered that pregnancy can be a time when anxieties emerge. You're working hard to keep your baby safe, and you're also experiencing massive hormonal shifts that can impact your mood. Those are some reasons women are more prone to developing anxiety disorders during pregnancy, and also why many women worry a lot in general about the health of their pregnancy and baby. These concerns can be heightened when the news is filled with scary stories and the information changes rapidly.

Here are some ways you can manage worry about the Zika virus.

Know that it is ok to feel worry. It's scary to learn about a global health threat and have so little information about its impact and how it is transmitted.

Talk to your OB or midwife about your concern. Ask to take a risk assessment to determine how likely it is that you could have been exposed to Zika. If you have not traveled in the areas affected by the virus, discuss any lingering concerns with your doctor or midwife.

According Siobhan Dolan, MD, medical advisor to the March of Dimes, "If you haven't traveled to countries where Zika is circulating – and the United States is not one of those countries – I think you can rest assured that you're not at risk." For those who have traveled to these areas, completing a risk assessment should bring some reassurance to you and your family.

Know that it's common to have anxious thoughts during pregnancy. It's normal to have anxiety and experience what psychotherapists call "intrusive" thoughts. But if you are experiencing significant distress around these thoughts or altering your daily activities because of them, you may be at risk of developing an anxiety disorder. A mental health professional can help you manage.

Take a break from the news and Dr. Google. With ever-changing information and the media's tendency to lead with the scariest news, constantly listening to the latest Zika updates can be very anxiety producing. Similarly, doing a lot of online research just prolongs the time you spend worrying about Zika and can expose you to misinformation that may concern you unnecessarily.

Schedule a time to worry. Set aside a short period of time in the day to allow yourself to explore your worries. Keep the "appointment," and move on to other activities when your time is up.

Find activities that keep you in the present moment. This is one of the best ways to take a break from anxieties. Exercising (if you are able) is a great way to bring your attention to the here and now. Good activities are those that engage your brain and require activity at the same time, such as playing the piano or cooking.

Reach out for professional support if you need it. If your anxiety is starting to interfere with your ability to function, affect your sleep or appetite, or cause a level of concern that feels very uncomfortable to you, talk with a mental health professional. There are very effective treatments for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including therapy and medication. Ask your OB for a referral to a reproductive mental health expert, or use the resources below to find one in your area.

Postpartum Progress
Postpartum Support International
The Seleni Institute

More from Perinatal Mental Health


Christiane Manzella, PhD

Christiane Manzella, PhD, has been a therapist and grief counselor in New York City for more than 20 years. Dr. Manzella earned both her master's degree in clinical psychology and doctorate in counseling psychology from New York University and carried out her doctoral dissertation research at Beth Israel Medical Center hospice, with postdoctoral supervision in grief and bereavement work. She was named a Fellow in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement, awarded from the Association of Death Educators and Counselors (ADEC), and is completing the third year of a three-year term on their Board. 

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