Can mindfulness help with incontinence?

Dealing with incontinence can be difficult at times and bring added stress to your day-to-day life – but this doesn’t mean there aren’t techniques that can help both you and your incontinence! Many people may not realise the extent to which incontinence can have an impact on your mental health; whether that be a knock to your self-confidence or general nervousness that you may experience throughout the day. 
 
The practice of mindfulness is commonly used to dispel and manage these feelings of negativity or particular anxiety by emphasising the importance of being self-aware in the present moment, and allowing ourselves to disconnect our physical state from our emotions. 
 
So, how can managing your stress actually help with your incontinence? We have spoken to Dr John S. Young, Associate Professor in Urology, to better understand not only the link between mental and physical wellbeing, but also to find out about the different ways in which you can achieve and practise mindfulness. 

What’s the relationship between improved mental health and incontinence?

Even though the connection between improved mental health and incontinence has not been largely investigated, a few studies that have been carried out have shown very promising signs. For example, a study in 2012 demonstrated that mindfulness-based stress reduction can improve urge incontinence; with 5 in 7 participants discovering they experienced incontinence less than previously.* 
 
However, it’s also important to note the way in which mindfulness can help relieve the depression and anxiety that is sometimes caused by incontinence. Dr. John says:
 
“The benefits of mindfulness are improvements in mood and our body’s response to cycles of anxiety and/or depression. Mindfulness is not only beneficial to mental and physical wellbeing but, by extension, it can help our relationship with loved ones, mindset and productivity.” 
 
“So, even though mindfulness is not directly recommended for urinary symptoms, there are clinicians and healthcare practitioners that advocate its use to alleviate urinary symptoms as well as the mental illnesses associated with long-term urinary symptoms.” 
 
In particular Dr. John emphasises how “patients with incontinence are encouraged to persevere with physiotherapy or pelvic floor exercises and it’s here that mindfulness would be of benefit; particularly if their incontinence has led to depression and anxiety.” 
 
Similarly, “for overactive bladder patients, the few clinical studies and the growing anecdotal evidence suggests that mindfulness can be of great benefit. In particular, practitioners talk about having their patients concentrate on their breathing when experiencing urgency, as a way of successfully preventing an episode of incontinence.”

What does mindfulness actually mean?

Mindfulness is expensive
 
While engaging with a professional service may mean you have to spend some money, learning mindfulness doesn’t have to be costly; there are also excellent free resources available online – we’ve included some of our favourites at the bottom of this article! 
 
Mindfulness requires a big commitment
 
Mindfulness certainly takes time, but it’s also possible to combine it with other daily activities – such as when walking the dog, in a quiet period just before bed or even between other activities or tasks. 
 
Mindfulness is about banishing negative thoughts
 
Mindfulness is rather more about ‘reframing’ thoughts; by first reflecting on how a certain way of thinking can have negative impacts on our bodies and then learning that while we’ll most likely have such thoughts in future, they need not affect us in the same way.
 
Mindfulness is not relevant for improving urinary symptoms
 
Although there are very few thorough clinical studies that evaluate whether mindfulness can benefit those suffering with urinary symptoms, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence – particularly from practitioners.

How can I practise mindfulness?

If you’re now thinking about practising mindfulness, let’s find how you can do it and where you can start! 
 
Dr. John recommends a few helpful pointers to get you going:
 
● There are two types of meditation: guided and unguided 
 
● Guided meditation is led by another person, which can be on an app, audio file or YouTube clip
 
● Unguided meditation is completed in silence and carried out alone by the individual
 
● Guided meditation is usually recommended for beginners, to help learn about specific techniques and exercises 
 
● Most mindfulness exercises will combine a mixture of calming and insight techniques 
 
● Calming techniques involve learning to focus on a thought or action (such as breathing)
 
● Whereas insight techniques focus on establishing a healthier connection between a mental process and your body’s physical response 
So there you have a few of the basic, key elements to the different types of mindfulness. However, given the diversity of approaches to mindfulness and meditation, it’s recommended that you give yourself space to trial and test the approach which best suits you. 
 
Ultimately, it is only once you have found the method that’s most beneficial for you, that you will be able to experience the positive effects of using mindfulness as a tool for dealing with the mental and physical effects of incontinence.
 
 
(* Each of these apps includes some free content with additional content available through in-app purchases)