Stress & the pelvic floor

May 11, 2020 | By More

Sylvia Farrell

Pelvic Health Physiotherapist

8 Effective ways to relieve Stress Levels

Did you know stress can even affect the functioning of the pelvic floor muscles?

Are you exhausted but don’t feel like you did much during the day? These are strange times for us. Whether in isolation or social distancing our brains are on high alert and working overtime to try and make sense of what’s going on around us. We are not used to this constant state of alertness or waiting, waiting for the next news report, waiting the next set of figures, waiting for things to return to ‘normal’. Some things are beyond our control. It is a stressful time.

Stress manifests itself in many ways and it is generally associated with a guarding and increased tension of the muscles. Some people will carry this stress/tension in their neck and shoulders resulting in headaches or pain in the area and for others, it is often carried in their core and this can result in the pelvic floor muscles being affected. This can happen without us even realising.

🔸Are you experiencing pelvic pain? 
🔸Are you in more pain than previously?
🔸Are you leaking more? 
🔸Have you developed urinary urgency? 
🔸Are you going to the toilet more frequently?
🔸Have your prolapse symptoms worsened?
🔸Have you developed constipation?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions then perhaps your pelvic floor muscles are reacting to stress. So, what can we do to help the situation and how can we relieve stress? I have put together this list of effective ways to help reduce stress levels. Why not give them a go? 

1. Breathing Work 

By tapping into our breathing we can affect the parasympathetic nervous system which has a calming effect on our bodies. This helps to soothe the ‘fight or flight’ response we may find ourselves in as a result of what is going on around us. Breathing work will help reduce tension and stress levels. 

And a big bonus of breath work is that because our diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles are part of our core, one can affect the other. With movement of our diaphragm we will achieve movement and lengthening of our pelvic floor muscles…reducing tension, reducing pain and improving pelvic symptoms. 

Do not force breath work. Take your time, there is no rush and with practice it will become easier.

Here is an example of some breath work 

2. Get Moving 

Physical activity/exercise has many physical and mental health benefits. It is an important tool for easing stress. Exercise boosts endorphins, the feel-good neurotransmitters in our brain. These endorphins give us a mood and energy boost. 

Any form of exercise works as a stress reliever and a distraction from worries. You do not have to be training for a 10k or lifting heavy weights, just get moving in some way, preferably doing something you enjoy. Aim to be active for at least 30mins per day to help release these endorphins. Build up gradual if you have not been active recently. 

Physical stress on the body eases mental stress. Regular exercise also boosts self-confidence and improves sleep quality. It’s win win!

3. Sleep 😴

Sleep is a powerful stress reducer and an important component to everyone’s overall health and wellbeing. It boosts the immune system and helps with our mental health. Sleep is also required for recovery and preparation for the following day. Aim for 7-9hours per 24hours. 

Insufficient sleep can increase stress levels. Try to practice a good sleep routine by scheduling a bedtime, avoiding blue light (phone) in bed and by avoiding caffeine or stimulants close to bedtime. 

4. Be gentle with yourself

Ask yourself the following questions:

Am I being gentle with myself in this moment?

If I were to bring gentleness into this moment, what would it look like?

This may include breath work and exercise; it’s not meant as a punishment. Listen to your body and do something FOR it rather than TO it. Be kind, starting with yourself.

5. Stretching/ Yoga

Take time out to stretch and you can often combine a stretch with breath work. I have put together some suggestions in this short video of hip and pelvic floor stretches to help release tension in these muscles. This will help with pelvic floor muscle down-training. 

Yoga is also a great option and can be highly effective to reduce stress as it creates a body and breath awareness. 

6. Meditation and Relaxation 

Meditation can mean different things to different people and some find it easier than others. I myself am new to meditation and find it difficult to focus at times. An app can help with guided meditation, some examples are Calm, Headspace and you can also find plenty of options online. To start find a comfortable symmetrical posture without stress on your joints and ground yourself. To gain focus concentrate on your breath to start. 

Relaxation may mean listening to music, reading a book, sitting in the garden or just getting some quiet time for yourself. It’s about self-care. Do what works best for you to recharge.

In relation to the pelvic floor, occasionally throughout the day bring an awareness to the area. Allow the muscles relax by letting go around the back passage and allow the stomach muscles hang out(don’t suck them in tight). 

7. Limit your news feed and scrolling of social media 

Constant bombardment is not good for stress levels. Take some time out from the news feed or limit yourself to one news bulletin. You could also limit your time on social media.

And finally…

8. Laugh

Endorphins, those feel good neurotransmitters are released by the brain when you laugh. One minute of laughter is said to reduce stress and boost the immune system for 24hours.

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