The pelvic floor is the group of muscles beneath the pelvis that is important for urination, bowel, sexual function, birthing, and of course maintaining good positioning of the pelvic organs. Perhaps you're quite intuitive and notice that you're more susceptible to pain, illness, and injury when you're under stress. But have you ever considered how stress affects your pelvic floor function overall?
You know how you have a spot (or spots) around you neck or shoulders that seems to get tight and sore? It's that place that always feels good to be massaged and feels like it's in a constant state of tension. Well, turns out the pelvic floor does the same thing on the underside of your body. It's where your tension is held in the lower half of your body.
Consider what an animal does when scared. It usually cowers, tucks it's tail under, and slinks away right? And when we are stressed or feeling low, one of our body's first reflexive responses is to curl up and clench our pelvic floor muscles, like tucking our tail under.
This constant state of tension can create tight spots, sometimes called trigger points, within the muscles of the pelvic floor. You may not even associate them as being sore because it doesn't feel the same as a knot in your neck or shoulders. Instead of that sore tight feeling, it can feel more like burning, aching, or even a stinging sensation. Sometimes it can even feel like a yeast infection.
A lot of women have what feels like recurrent yeast (fungal overgrowth) or urinary tract (bacterial imbalance) infections and spend a lot of time getting tests from the doctor. But the cultures come back negative. Strange right? And maybe they get rounds of antibiotics or anti-fungals to try to deal with the issue, but it doesn't work or seems like it works for a bit then comes back worse.
In these cases, it's a good time to step back and wonder if perhaps it's a stress and/or muscular issue causing the pain and discomfort in the first place.
But stress doesn't just cause pelvic pain and tension. It can also contribute to worsening prolapse, incontinence, hemorrhoids, or bowel and bladder dysfunction, like painful bladder syndrome. When stress is a major part of your life, it also affects your hormones and therefore changes your body's pH, response to pain, and ability to heal or ward off illness and injury.
Pelvic dysfunction is a whole body, whole person issue. It's not "all in your head" but what is in your head DOES affect your pelvic floor. It's a real, live problem that has a pretty big mind component (as does every other illness btw).
Ongoing stress causes physical pain. And ongoing physical pain causes stress. It's a vicious cycle.
And while it would be nice if we could just de-stress and be done with it, it takes a bit more to untangle the pain response with a whole body approach (since stress affects the whole body) to help the body heal after the stress response. It's kind of like weaning off of a drug. It takes a while for the body to adjust and detox from the chemicals circulating in the body. And oftentimes it takes support to be able to get back to feeling normal after a season of increased stress.
So what can you do to to support your pelvic floor during stressful times?
Exercise is one of the best ways to recover from the negative effects of stress.
Things like gentle stretching, walking, and gardening are fabulous ways to help your whole body feel better. Exercise helps to reduce pain, stress, anxiety, and actually improves your immune health. Not to mention the physical health benefits and direct effects on the pelvic floor through a greater variety of movements. Varied movement is a win-win for both physical and mental health.
(What about targeting the pelvic floor with Kegels? Not so fast! When the pelvic floor is tight already, kegels will make it worse. So if you're peeing your pants and are freaking out because even though you're squeezing hard you're still leaking, it's time to try something else.)
Prayer and Bible study
These forms of Christian meditation that help relieve stress as you read through the promises and give your worries to God. Unlike other forms of meditation which have short-term benefits and negatives involved, prayer and Bible meditation have long-term positive effects as faith grows and you truly leave your burdens in the hands of the Creator.
Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Good lifestyle habits support our body's ability to heal by giving it the fuel and tools it needs to detoxify and absorb nutrients. A good sleep schedule, deep breathing of pure air, excellent nutrition and eating habits, cleanliness, healthy clothing, and ditching toxins are all invaluable tools that can make such a huge difference in pelvic floor and whole body health.
A trusted friend, supportive group, or Christian counselor can help if you're feeling stressed and can't seem to break the cycle. To help with the physical symptoms, whole body or holistic pelvic floor therapy which can include movement medicine, bodywork, and lifestyle strategies is a fabulous way to support healing and can do so much to put the mind at ease as well.
If you're struggling with pelvic issues and are looking for a health supporter (who happens to also be a pelvic therapist), contact me now to see how I can help.
You truly don't have to keep struggling or go this alone.
In the meantime, check out our free Pelvic Floor Function Screening Tool to learn more about how well your pelvic floor is functioning and what to do about it.