Headaches, insomnia, racing heartbeat, sweaty palms, shortness of breath… Most people are familiar with these signs of stress. But stress can affect you in other unexpected ways that are more embarrassing and less talked about, like your urological health.
It’s well known that managing stress has many health benefits, such as improving your mental health, sleep quality, mood, heart function and general wellbeing. However, you might not know that stress can also impact your bladder function and sexual health.
How Stress Affects Bladder Function
You can probably think of a time in your life when you were stressed and felt like you needed to make more trips to the bathroom than usual. Maybe it was before an important work presentation, a date, a job interview, or some other nerve-wracking event.
This is actually quite common for both men and women! While the underlying physical relationship between stress and bladder function isn’t completely understood by doctors yet, it’s clear there’s a relationship between the two.
Stress can sometimes make you urinate more frequently and make you feel like you need to urinate more urgently. For some people, stress can also contribute to incontinence and nocturia, or waking up frequently in the night to urinate.
Stress seems to exacerbate symptoms associated with bladder disorders such as interstitial cystitis, painful bladder syndrome (PBS) and overactive bladder (OAB). In fact, in some cases stress may even play a role in causing these conditions in the first place. One study indicated that women with anxiety or depression were about 50% more likely to develop urinary incontinence than women who didn’t face the same mental health problems.
Studies have also found that patients with OAB have higher anxiety levels than the general population, and that patients experience more severe OAB symptoms if they also have anxiety.
Unfortunately, experiencing urological issues can lead to emotional distress in and of itself, making it difficult to pinpoint which one caused which. Did stress cause your urological issues or did your urological issues make you stressed, or was it perhaps some combination of both? It can be hard to tell.
How Stress Affects Men’s Sexual Health
Let’s be honest: most men have experienced at least one instance when they’ve had difficulty getting or keeping an erection. Maybe it was a difficult time in your life when you were stressed about work or had just gone through a tough breakup, or perhaps you were nervous about starting a new relationship.
If this has ever happened to you, it’s completely normal! Just like stress can affect your bladder function, it can also affect your sexual function.
In some cases, stress can contribute to forms of ongoing sexual dysfunction such as premature ejaculation (PE) and erectile dysfunction (ED). In fact, studies suggest that around 10% of men with ED also have depression, while up to 37% experience anxiety.
However, as with bladder issues, it can be difficult to tell if stress has caused someone’s ED, if someone is stressed because they’re experiencing ED, or if stress is exacerbating ED symptoms caused by an underlying physical issue.
Treatment and Getting Help
Even if you think your urological issues are stress-related, it’s best to contact and consult a urologist, especially if your symptoms are persistent and negatively impact your quality of life. It’s important to rule out any underlying physical issues that could be causing or contributing to your symptoms.
It can be hard to tell if the cause of your symptoms is physical or psychological, and often it can be a combination of both. Either way, there’s no need to be ashamed or to suffer in silence. These issues affect millions of men around the world, so you are not alone. An experienced urologist can identify the root causes of your urological health issues and provide relevant treatment options.
Treatment can involve surgery, medication, psychological therapy or any combination of the three, depending on your individual circumstances.
However, there are some general steps you can take to reduce your stress levels and improve your urological health:
- Avoid consuming substances that can exacerbate urological issues, such as alcohol and tobacco.
- Consider seeing a psychologist. They can help you develop practical strategies to cope with stress and identify ways to calm your body and mind.
- Meditation is a great way to keep your stress at bay. It can be as simple as finding a quiet space where you can close your eyes and focus on your breathing for ten minutes a day.