As an anxious person, it’s no surprise to me that many women who leak also report mental stress about their spontaneous sprinkler systems 💦. After all, fears about leaking have been instilled in us since childhood and waste elimination (losing a full bladder) is a stress response we’re hardwired for. But, did you know that anxiety about your leaks can actually make you leak more?
It’s true that life isn’t fair sometimes, but this mind-body connection seemed a little too cruel. So, I went on a quest to unpack the anxiety-leak relationship, and learn why anxious leaking is a thing, how to tell if it’s affecting you and, most importantly, what you can do about it. For answers, wisdom, and clarity, I turned to not one but two experts: Lindsey Vestal, our resident pelvic floor guru, and Shahar Lion, a psychotherapist, yoga instructor, and mental health magician. Now, onto my first question(s):
Does anxiety really cause leaking?
Lindsey says for the vast majority of us, leaking is rooted in a physiological cause, like an imbalance in the pelvic floor muscles. But once you’ve developed an anxious relationship to your leaking (AKA proven you’re not a robot🤖) your anxiety can actually make leaks more frequent.
How does anxiety cause leaking, you ask? Anxious leaking really boils down to shock absorption. The pelvic floor is made of muscles, and when we’re anxious about anything we tend to tighten our bodies. “When something is tight like that, it can’t handle any sort of upset,” Lindsey explains. Clenching your pelvic floor is kind of like locking your knees on a bus or a train and thinking your fixed position will help you stay standing during all the bumps and turns. The reality is that a relaxed bod helps you absorb the shock of the ride, so you can bend and sway as needed to stay upright. So, when you’re anxious and tightening your pelvic floor, the muscles can’t handle everyday movements like going from sit to stand, jumping, or walking across a room because they’re already hangin’ on for dear, clenched life.
How can I tell if I’m clenching my pelvic floor muscles?
For most leaky folks it’s obvious that anxiety spikes when the urge strikes, but for some, clenching can be totally subconscious. The good news is, there are two really simple ways to evaluate whether your anxiety has sprung a leak:
- A short breathing exercise: Put your hand on your chest and your belly, and breathe. Ask yourself where you’re feeling movement. Is it in your stomach, or is it in your chest? If you’re feeling most of the movement in your chest, Lindsey says that’s a fight or flight anxious breath. Your default breathing – how and where oxygen is traveling in your body when you’re meant to be calm – says a lot about whether your anxiety is manifesting physically. Shallow default breathing means you’re more than likely tensed up in other areas of your bod, too.
- Checking your water intake: Do you restrict how much water you drink on a regular basis? If the answer is yes, it means your leak anxiety has reached a pretty critical point. You’re stressing about drips on a daily (if not hourly) basis, and depriving your bod of what it wants and needs to function. In short, if you’re restricting fluids, you’re probs also clenching your pelvic floor. (Side note: drinking less doesn’t actually prevent leaking, and can have serious health consequences, but that’s a matter for another blog post. In the meantime, please hydrate!)
What can I do to lower my anxiety around leaking?
- Remind yourself that productive peeing requires relaxation, not tension. Lindsey says it’s important to remember that the mechanism behind letting urine leave your body is relaxation. You have to mentally decide to physically relax your muscles every single time you pee. So, gripping your pelvic floor muscles all the time is actually counterproductive, and can even mean that when you DO pee, you’re so tight that you don’t fully empty your bladder. Which means it might empty on its own terms later.
- Take back control of your pelvic floor. If your leaking is triggered by stress incontinence (like coughing or sneezing), Shahar says zeroing in on the moment before you cough or sneeze is a great way to start developing awareness and control of your pelvic floor. It takes some practice, but when you feel a sneeze coming on, try visualizing your pelvic muscles and bones cozying up to each other to hold liquid in. After the cough or sneeze passes, inhale and relax your pelvic floor muscles, letting go of the lift you've created (think savasana yoga pose). Even if you aren’t able to prevent leaking through this exercise, it can help you build up a sense of mental control, which can decrease anxiety about a surprise drip here and there.
- Find an “insurance policy” that works for you. Last but definitely not least, finding something that gives you security and peace of mind about leaking is a great step toward helping your pelvic floor relax a little. Not to toot our own horn, but we’ve had a number of customers tell us that, since they started wearing Icon undies, they’re actually experiencing fewer leaks! Cindi S., who discovered her leaking during a trampoline workout class (yikes), wrote to us saying “not only do my undies manage the leakage, they give me support so I leak even less.” When you’re not stressing about anybody seeing or sniffing a potential downpour, you and your pelvic floor will breathe easier.
*~Are you an anxious leaker? Tell us how you deal!~*