“I hate all of them,” my client Shelly said. “First it was just all the people that aren’t pregnant and can bend over, and poop, and eat more than crackers. And then I started hating all the pregnant women too. They all glow more than me, yet sweat less. There’s no way they’re as scared, or angry, or tired as me. And then there’s my husband — he really sucks. I hate that! I hate all of them, but I can’t stop it. And…and…and…” Shelly went on for a while. I felt for her. She was taking my childbirth prep class and had stayed behind to talk.
Shelly said the moments of excessive annoyance began almost as soon as she peed on the stick. But the rage didn’t fully blossom until the beginning of her third trimester. She couldn’t tolerate being in public because she couldn’t hold her tongue — she couldn’t stop her eyes from giving away how dumb she thought everyone was. “I got a foot massage last week and asked the woman if she was trying to do a bad job. I could barely feel her hands, but still, I was such a bitch. She teared up. I’m not usually like this. Before I became pregnant I was that person who struck up conversations with strangers in the checkout line. I would leave waiters big tips even if they did a horrible job. I think I’m possessed,” she said. She was possessed. But not by the Spawn of Satan, just by the Hormones from Hell — and a few other pregnancy demons.
What Shelley experienced was an extreme version of the mood shifts many women have during pregnancy. The changes in estrogen and progesterone throw your neurotransmitters — the chemicals in the brain that help regulate your mood— for a loop. Like a giant, nauseating roller coaster loop. In addition to the hormones, the fatigue, the stress of pre- paring for a new baby, and the changes to your metabolism contribute to the whole “other people are insufferable” thing. While this is all normal, it doesn’t feel great, and each time you see red it can cause a surge of the stress hormones epinephrine, cortisol, and adrenaline, in addition to a constriction of blood vessels.
A study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that pregnant women with chronic high levels of anger had high levels of cortisol and adrenaline, in addition to low dopamine and serotonin levels, and that these women tended to have babies with high cortisol and low dopamine levels. These babies also had issues with sleep, orientation, and motor maturity after birth. The good news is there’s a lot you can do to minimize the spike in these rage hormones, as well as the dips in your happy hormones.
What to do
Avoid other people. Seriously. While I’ll get to ways to manage your irritation when you have to be around other humans, I want to stress your right to honor your needs — even if those needs include being a hermit for a few weeks. Maybe your irritable mood is a much-needed invitation to step out of the social scene and spend more time connecting with your baby — a person who, at the moment, cannot talk back and demands nothing of you (beyond most of your nutrients).
If you’ve always felt like you’d rather stare at a blank wall than interact with other humans, this may be a sign of social anxiety, chronic depression, or other common conditions, which might be something you can explore with the support of a mental health specialist. But if this is a state of being that popped up with pregnancy, it’ll likely subside after baby comes and the hormones chill. So instead of stressing about other people stressing you out, give yourself permission to avoid people as much as possible. Give yourself permission to retreat in ways like these:
- Pop on your headphones when you’re at work (or anywhere) so people aren’t tempted to talk to you.
- Tell your partner you need alone time and slip into bed with a good book or the remote.
- Pull the pregnancy card when friends ask you to go out, or an invite to a family gathering arrives.
If any of your people are offended, be straight up. Tell them pregnancy hormones are making you exceedingly irritable, so you’d rather avoid people than be mean to them. You can also remind them (and yourself) that you’ll be back to your more social self after your hormones regain equilibrium. Until then, just send your regrets. #SorryNotSorry
However, there will be times when you just can’t avoid interacting with fellow earthlings. To make those situations less infuriating, try the following:
- Discover what relaxes you, then do it. Analyze all the activities you engage in, or want to engage in, and pinpoint what makes you the most relaxed. For example, maybe a walk every morning, a nap in the afternoon, or a massage once a week pushes your reset button. Or maybe your thing is binging on Dr. Pimple Popper or knitting baby booties. Or whatever. Just do what soothes you at least once a day, as this will fill you with a greater capacity to deal with irritants when you have to leave your bubble.
- Follow the healthy norms. I know eating nutritious food and not being a total couch potato is talked about ad nauseam, but it’s for good reason. These activities help combat the factors that can make you susceptible to anger and irritation, like fatigue, headaches, and bloating, while also pumping you full of endorphins.
- Walk away. When someone triggers you and you feel a red-hot response on the tip of your tongue, swallow it and walk away. Go some- where private (the bathroom or car are my favorite choices), and let your rage spill out there. Say everything you wanted to say to that person. Bang your fists. Let it out. This helps avoid the escalation of interactions that don’t need to escalate, and prevents you from saying something you’ll later regret. If you need to return to that person, wait until your anger has subsided so you can engage from a calm space.
- Pull the pregnancy card. If those red-hot words spill from your mouth and you wish you could shove them back in, blame it on the baby. “I am so sorry I said that. These hormones are out of control.” However, if that person deserved those red-hot words, skip the excuse, and as the singer Lizzo would say, do a hair toss and walk your fine self out the door.
- Intentionally rage. Release your inner pressure cooker on your terms by finding activities that allow you to express your anger without hurting anyone. For example, I’ve been known to scream into pillows, pound said pillows, or write a scathing letter to someone I’m mad at, then burn it. Find your thing, then do it as often as needed.
- Practice nostril breathing. Most people hold their breath when they get mad. Pull yourself out of this state by practicing the very strange, yet effective, technique of nostril breathing, also called the “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.” To do this, close your right nostril with your thumb, then take a deep inhale through your left nostril. Next, close your left nostril with your finger, then exhale through your right nostril, and then inhale through your right nostril. Now close the right nostril, and exhale through your left nostril. That’s one cycle. For optimal results, do it for five minutes. It may sound confusing, but it gets easier with practice.
Safety Note: Stop this breathing technique if you begin feeling lightheaded.
- Practice muscle release. In addition to holding their breath, people tense their muscles when they’re mad. So when you feel anger coursing through your muscles, counteract it by envisioning a warm, euphoria-inducing liquid being poured into the top of your head and flowing down through every muscle, nerve, and cell in your body until it reaches your toes. Track this liquid as it slowly moves through you, feeling your muscles relax as the euphoria moves through them. Keep repeating this visualization until you feel the anger subside.