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Coping with uncertainty

The unexpected often happens in life, and it’s normal to feel unprepared and unsure of how to adjust.

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External sources of stress can be distressing and tricky to navigate, and everyone has their own coping styles in these moments. Some coping styles are more effective than others when you’re dealing with unknowns and events beyond your control in life. This is a guide to help you find your way, and look after yourself and your baby in any situation.

Life events like the transition to parenthood, career change, financial issues, separation, prolonged ill-health or the loss of a loved one can affect you personally, and also have an impact on your wider social network.

Public health emergencies, global conflict situations and natural disasters affect entire communities, but can also feel incredibly overwhelming on an individual level.

In times of intense change and uncertainty, people always find ways to cope and look after themselves. Humans are incredibly strong, resourceful and brave when wellbeing and survival are at stake.

Yet if you’re pregnant or caring for a baby, it’s not just your own wellbeing you need to think about. Pregnancy and early parenthood are already a time of increased vulnerability. Exposure to stressful situations during the perinatal period may increase the risk of changes to your mental health and ability to cope in daily life.

When the unexpected happens in life, and you’re trying to cope with external stressors beyond your control, the added responsibility of another little life to protect can heighten feelings of concern and distress.

Becoming a parent means you’ll need to learn how to navigate a whole lot of unknowns, for yourself and your bub. Often the one thing parents are sure of is that they want to protect their baby and give them the best life possible.

“ Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

Elizabeth Stone

The responsibilities and rewards of parenthood are enormous, but sometimes that duty of care we feel towards our little ones can feel overwhelming.

When the world feels like it’s falling apart around you, whether you’re carrying an extra heart inside you, or in your arms - it’s important to remember to look after your own emotional and mental wellbeing. This is vital during times of major life disruption and transition. Caring for yourself, and finding ways to cope when life feels unpredictable is protecting your baby too.

Having a baby can feel like the most exciting – and scary – time of your life. There are so many unknowns to deal with during pregnancy and early parenthood. You might be trying to cope with changes to your:

  • Mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • Physical health
  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Self-identity

Perhaps wondering what your birth will be like, or what kind of parent you will be. Part of this parenthood journey is also developing a protective mindset. Starting during pregnancy, and continuing for years, parents think about how they’ll care for their baby and shield them from danger in life.

When uncontrollable events happen, it’s normal to experience a range of responses to major disruptions to your daily life. Some common responses include:

  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Depression symptoms
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Disheartened and fearful about the future
  • Frustration about disruptions to plans and routines
  • Anger, feeling powerless to change anything
  • Loss of control
  • Confusion
  • Sleep and appetite issues
  • Grief and loss
  • Feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, trapped and isolated

Research suggests that there are three main coping styles people use when feeling stressed and trying to manage the demands of life events beyond their control:

  • Emotion-focused coping style
  • Problem-solving coping style (also known as solution-focused coping)
  • Avoidant coping (sometimes called dysfunctional coping)

These coping styles can help you to respond effectively to distress and tolerate uncertainty. The right combination of coping style strategies can be helpful for expecting and new parents doing their best to adapt to unexpected situations in life.

Research suggests that:

  • Emotion-focused coping strategies are most likely to reduce distress and increase wellbeing when faced with uncontrollable external events.
  • Problem-focused coping can be helpful when tackling situations that are controllable, and the outcomes of your actions are more predictable.
  • Avoidant coping can be used to gradually adjust to changing situations and events.

Helpful Information

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Emotion-focused coping style

2

Problem-focused coping style

3

Avoidant coping style

Bringing it all together

Most people tend to have a default coping style, but also use a combination of the coping strategies listed here when adapting to life’s challenges.

Regardless of your coping style, please be kind and gentle with yourself if you’re dealing with major disruptions to your life, plans, and hopes for the future. Sometimes it feels like we’re just hanging in there, trying to survive. When you have a moment, we encourage you to think about how you usually cope with stress and uncertainty, and see if you can identify helpful strategies you’ve used previously to adjust to stressful situations.

If you feel like you’re not coping as well as usual, please feel welcome to call PANDA and speak with one of our counsellors. We’ll support you to identify your existing coping skills, and explore new ways to care for yourself and your baby.

Mental health checklist

How are you going?

Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be reason to seek help.

Checklist for

Expecting Mums
Expecting Dads and Non-birth Parents
New Mums
New Dads and Non-birth Parents
Partners and Carers

Related downloads

Factsheet: Coping with uncertainty
Download
Adjusting to parenthood
Download

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Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be a reason to seek help.