Stress and Your Pelvic Floor. Are They Related?

What is stress? According to the World Health Organization, “Stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain. Stress is your body’s response to anything that requires attention or action”

Is stress bad for you? Yes and no! A small dose of stress can be healthy! For example, the stress we experience from an appropriate exercise routine can be beneficial to our health. In fact, how our bodies regulate and respond to stress was extremely important for survival from an evolutionary standpoint. Our nervous system’s fight or flight response was designed as a safety response to life threatening situations. It was crucial to our survival. However, our bodies and minds are not meant to maintain a high level of stress for too long. In today’s world we too often find ourselves living in this heightened state for prolonged periods.

How does stress affect our pelvic floor? Stress can manifest itself in the body in various ways. We may notice a throbbing headache, twitching eye, sleep disruptions, appetite change or clenched fists. It can feel like a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, or tightening muscles that cannot seem to relax. When our pelvic floor muscles live in a constant shortened and tightened state, they are not at their optimal muscle length to function properly and we may begin to see impairments such as urinary urgency, painful intercourse or general pain, incontinence, or constipation.

The good news is there are ways to cope and combat our stress levels. Meditation and mindfulness are great techniques to help downregulate our central nervous system and control that fight or flight response. Deep breathing is another great tool to help lower stress levels and get a good grasp on our nervous system. Daily exercise, a balanced diet and connecting with any health care provider you need to help support your mental well-being are just as important. And of course, don’t forget to contact your local pelvic floor therapist to address any pelvic floor dysfunction you may be having!

Contributed by Dr. Jessica Palermo

December 20, 2022