Do you have a big deadline at work coming up? Did your daughter volunteer you to make cupcakes for her class…tomorrow? We all know stress can impact our health, but you might be surprised to see just how heavily stress can affect your bladder, and incontinence.
Stress is an inescapable part of life. From your job to your finances to your personal life, there’s no avoiding the anxiety and hardships that come with adulthood. A small amount of stress is expected and perfectly normal. But sometimes that stress grows to the point where it affects your day-to-day life.
Extreme stress levels can even manifest in ways that impact your physical health. You’ve probably heard this before—stress can cause migraines, high blood pressure, and more.
But did you know stress can also impact the health of your bladder? This is especially true as you age. You may notice bladder problems more and more frequently. But what many don’t know is that some of these bladder issues may be stress-induced.
Here are some surprising ways stress might be affecting your urologic health.
Stress and Bladder Infections
Bladder infections, also known as urinary tract infections (UTIs), are extremely common in women. In fact, women are diagnosed with UTIs nearly 30 times more often than men. Bladder infections are also very common in chronic kidney disease patients before they start dialysis.
Bladder infections are caused by microorganisms, namely bacteria. High levels of stress can reduce your body’s immune system, which in turn can heighten your risk of developing an infection.
Stress and Overactive Bladder Syndrome
Studies show there is a large correlation between stress and the activity of your bladder. Adults with higher stress levels report more frequent trips to the bathroom than those who aren’t under as much stress. (A condition commonly known as Overactive Bladder.)You may have already noticed this with your own health. Do you find yourself using the bathroom more often when you’re feeling nervous or anxious?
Stress and Bladder Incontinence
Similar to overactive bladder, some people also struggle with holding their bladder. Your pelvic floor muscles, which are responsible for holding it when you need to go, grow weaker over time. This weakness can also occur as a result of physical changes like pregnancy, labor, and childbirth. It’s also very common for women going through menopause to struggle with holding their bladder.
However, there are also links between bladder incontinence and mental health issues. Many patients who struggle with anxiety and depression also struggle with incontinence. As far as which issues are to blame, it appears to go both ways: mental stress can cause incontinence, and incontinence can also cause mental stress.
Further, mental stress can affect your muscles. That’s why your neck, shoulders, or back might feel tense if you’re under a lot of pressure. But not everyone carries their stress in those muscles. For some people, the pelvic floor muscles can become weakened as a result of stress. This may exacerbate problems if you’re already dealing with bladder incontinence.
Stress and Interstitial Cystitis
Another common bladder condition is interstitial cystitis (IC), also known as bladder pain syndrome. This chronic condition causes pain and pressure in your bladder and pelvic area. If you’re experiencing a bout of IC, stress can make the pain worse and may also prolong the episode.
If you struggle with bladder pain syndrome, there are ways to limit flare-ups and decrease your pain and discomfort. Choose an activity that lowers your stress levels, like taking a relaxing bath, reading a book, or journaling. Low-impact exercise may help as well.
Stress and General Bladder Discomfort
Even if you haven’t been formally diagnosed with any of these bladder conditions, stress can cause general feelings of discomfort, urgency (the sudden need to urinate), and frequency (the need to urinate more often than normal).
Stress can also cause changes in your lifestyle that may impact your bladder. For some people, stress can lead to overeating or neglecting physical exercise. Both of these habits can irritate your bladder, especially if overeating includes a lot of processed or sugary foods.
Similarly, if you experience weight gain due to stress, you may also notice your bladder acting up. Poor quality sleep and not drinking enough water are two other common things that happen to people dealing with anxiety, and both of these can negatively impact your urologic health as well.
Reduce Stress to Promote All-Around Wellness
Excessive amounts of stress can negatively impact your physical and mental health. That’s why it’s important to adjust your schedule to allow for some self-care, both inside and out.
Here are some stress-reducing and wellness techniques to try if you’ve been feeling the pressure:
- Practice deep breathing
- Practice mindfulness and/or yoga
- Listen to your favorite music
- Spend quality time with loved ones
- Get enough quality sleep
- Drink plenty of water
- Follow a balanced diet
- Get plenty of exercise
We understand that these things are easier said than done. To ensure that your physical and mental health receive the attention they need, consider setting some reminders for yourself. Place a sticky note by your bedside table reminding yourself to put down the phone and do a little journaling before bed. Or set a reminder on your phone that tells you to drink some water every couple of hours.
It may also be helpful to choose an accountability partner. Pick a trusted loved one who will check in to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and focusing on your mental health.
About the author: Jenny Hart is a freelance writer and the founder of All Health All Day.
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