How does anxiety affect the bladder?

Have you ever felt like your heart is going to beat out of your chest or maybe your palms start to feel a bit clammy when you start thinking about certain issues? This could be a sign that you are experiencing anxiety. 
 
Anxiety can generally be described as the intense and persistent worry or fear about everyday situations. While anxiety may not be the best feeling to experience, between the 20th and 30th of March 2020, almost half (49.6%) of people in Great Britain reported to experience "high" levels of anxiety , so it’s most likely that many of us will experience it at one time or another. 
 
A lesser-known symptom of anxiety is also an overactive bladder. An overactive bladder is usually associated with urinary urgency and can sometimes lead to urinary incontinence as a by-product (though this is not always a given). So why does anxiety have the ability to affect the bladder in this way and what can you do to help it? 
 
In order to help us answer this question and to find out a little bit more about the topic, we spoke to Dr. John S. Young, Associate Professor in Urology, who explained not only the way in which anxiety can affect the bladder but also how the bladder can affect your anxiety! Let’s find out more. 

What’s the relationship between anxiety and an overactive bladder?

Different types of incontinence and bladder issues are sometimes better known about than others. For example, the cause of stress incontinence is generally a very well understood and researched bladder issue. Unfortunately the causes of an overactive bladder are not quite as well understood. 
 
However, there are some signs that you may be able to spot if your overactive bladder is related to anxiety. Dr. John explains that some people who suffer from anxiety “may notice a change in urinary symptoms; namely an increase in the number of occasions where they experience urinary urgency (a sudden urge to void that cannot be deferred), perhaps accompanied by incontinence.” 
 
There’s also a school of thought that urinary symptoms such as urgency may originate or be exacerbated by anxiety. As Dr. John says, “such as how a habit of ‘going, just in case’ can lead to increased frequency and a heightened perception of bladder fullness.”
 
Therefore, it’s interesting to explore the nature of the relationship between anxiety and an overactive bladder, as it becomes apparent that just as much as anxiety can cause an overactive bladder (and sometimes incontinence), an overactive bladder can also affect your anxiety…

How can frequent urination affect your anxiety?

Issues around the bladder or incontinence can also affect people’s mental health (particularly in reference to anxiety). 
 
For example, those suffering with urinary symptoms may notice that they increasingly worry about getting ‘caught short’ when out in public; when going for a long walk or car journey you may start fretting more about where the nearest toilet is as opposed to enjoying yourself! As a result, some people may find that they eventually start restricting their activities because of an increased burden of coping, embarrassment, and a feeling of low self-esteem.
 
“These changes in functioning may be related to feelings of loss of control, shame, and embarrassment” with Dr. John adding that in some cases, “they can even exacerbate anxiety symptoms”. 

How can you improve anxiety incontinence?

Obviously if you are going through anxiety related incontinence or even incontinence related anxiety, it can be tough to be able to juggle both issues. But there are plenty of tips and steps you can take to help manage both your anxiety and your bladder problems.
 
The most effective way to manage the symptoms of urinary problems is to treat the underlying cause, and the same is true of anxiety that happens as a result of these same issues. “If anxiety affects the bladder resulting in new symptoms or the worsening of existing symptoms, it’s essential to consult your GP,” recommends Dr John. “Your GP will then review how you are currently managing anxiety and may suggest new or additional treatments or strategies.”

Steps that will help your anxiety and your bladder

Dr. John also proposes the following steps in order to lessen the impact of urinary symptoms on mental health:
Talk to a doctor
You may want to consult your GP and work with them or healthcare professionals, to help diagnose the underlying cause of your symptoms.
 
Stay optimistic

Persevere with trying out different treatment options until the most effective solution can be identified. Fortunately there are many different options and what works for one person may not always work for you, so do keep trying!
 
Don’t be afraid of going to events

Try to keep as normal a life as possible. Don’t miss out on social events just because you’re worried about access to toilets or leaking in public. You can always use incontinence products to help you feel more confident about being out in public and trying new activities. 
 
Find some support

Have conversations with friends and family. Others will have experienced symptoms and will be able to provide you with excellent support and advice. 
 
Use online resources

Engage with the excellent resources available from Bladder Health UK, the Bladder & Bowel Foundation and Bladder & Bowel Community.
Ultimately though, it’s also crucial that loved ones provide the right support, encouragement and reassurance. So if you are suffering from anxiety, incontinence, or even both, it’s vital that you surround yourself with not only people who give you the care that you need, but also ensure that you have access to the right resources and medical guidance. If you want to learn more about the way in which your bladder and brain are connected, head over to our articles on mental health and incontinence and how mindfulness can help with incontinence.