There is little doubt that we lead stressful lives. In a recent study by the American Psychological Association, 80 percent of Americans claim their stress level has increased or stayed the same over the last year. Some blame technology and how social media dominates our every waking moment. Others look to our need to multi-task and the sheer speed of our modern lives, making it difficult to slow down and be present in the world. This constant stress takes its toll. Common effects of stress on your mind and body include headaches, sleep problems, depression, anxiety, and irritability. If left unchecked, chronic stress could lead to cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks.
Now take the stress of everyday life and add the anxiety that comes with incontinence to the mix. The feelings of social isolation, loss of control, and decreased confidence are overwhelming to many people. The fear of public accidents keep some from pursuing activities they once enjoyed like travel, exercise, and other social activities. These worries compound over time creating even higher levels of stress and anxiety, which could worsen symptoms. One study found that “women with anxiety (were) more likely to report worsening lower urinary tract symptoms.”
According Stress Relief Resources, this increase in symptoms could be due to certain neurotransmitters, which are formed from amino acids and allow cells to communicate with each other. “When you feel the effects of mental or emotional stress, these neurotransmitters tell all the other cells to get ready to either stand up to the stress or to run away from it.” The article continues: “They stimulate other neurotransmitters and also our cells to respond in ways that physically affect you by evoking three major physiological processes: your reaction to pain, your tendency to succumb to depression, and your control of unexpected bladder leakage.”
Fortunately, there are ways to ease stress and live a more mindful life. Here are five popular methods for stress relief:
No list of healthy habits would be complete without mentioning exercise. By raising your heart rate during exercise you’re actually subjecting your body to a low-level type of stress. When you make regular physical activity a part of your life this low-level stress helps your body handle the outside stresses of life better. It also gives you energy and increases your confidence, which women who experience incontinence tend to lack. Plus exercise just makes you feel good by releasing dopamine, a chemical that plays a role in happiness, into your brain.
2. Avoid procrastination
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today.” Procrastination is a horrible habit. It brings temporary relief by putting off unpleasant tasks, but adds stress to our lives because those tasks still need to be done. The more we procrastinate, the more tasks build up, increasing our anxiety. Like any bad habit, eliminating procrastination requires a plan. Prioritize your tasks and create a schedule that allows you to get things done but still allows for some free time.
3. Limit caffeine
There’s a reason so many of us require a cup (or two, or three) of coffee to get us going in the morning. Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and energy drinks. Ingesting too much could lead to increases in the stress hormone cortisol. High and prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream could lead to high blood pressure and blood sugar imbalances. In moderation caffeine could be fine, but if you already suffer from high levels of anxiety, it may be best to switch to herbal teas.
4. Spend quality time with friends and family
One study found that spending time with friends and family helps women release oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. Quality time does not mean a rushed family dinner, “liking” a friend’s Facebook post, or time spent traveling to tennis lessons. Instead, spend an afternoon hiking the trails with your best friend or have a family game night rather than watching T.V. Creating memories is a great stress reliever.
5. Practice mindfulness
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us,” according to the website Mindful. Yoga and meditation are both excellent ways to practice mindfulness. Yoga has been shown to lower stress hormone levels and blood pressure. Meditation clears your mind. It’s not easy to rid your mind of to-do lists or past regrets. Instead give yourself five minutes to sit comfortably and breathe deeply. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to the present by focusing on your breath. It takes time and practice to cultivate mindfulness but it’s worth every moment.
These are just a few examples of ways to relieve stress. Some, such as yoga, limiting caffeine, and physical activity, have also been found to relieve symptoms of incontinence. Using deep breathing techniques and strengthening pelvic floor muscles provide greater control and confidence when it comes to facing incontinence. Take the time to practice stress relief. Your body and mind will thank you.