Relax to Quiet Overactive Bladder Symptoms
Good news: You may be able to ease your bladder discomfort and symptoms of OAB by tapping into mind-body techniques such as meditation.
Stress and overactive bladder are a bad combination. "Imagine you're in public and having a conversation with someone and suddenly you feel like you're going to urinate right there," says Lauri J. Romanzi, M.D, clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "It leads to a lot of frazzled nerves."
And frazzled nerves can make symptoms even more bothersome. "Patients tell me when they're stressed, their overactive bladder is even worse,” she says. "It's a vicious cycle."
Focus on Breathing
"Slowing your breathing calms your autonomic nervous system, which slows your heart rate and can decrease spasms of the bladder," says Karen Sebastian, M.S.P.T. Performing the following three-step relaxation technique daily can help you learn how to calm yourself—and your urinary system as well. Practice for three to four weeks to get the most benefit.
Pressed for time? "You can use a shortened version of the breathing routine periodically throughout the day to keep your body from ramping up with stress," Sebastian says.
Step 1: Sit or lie down Give yourself 10 undisturbed minutes and make yourself comfortable. (Some people like soothing background music, others prefer a quiet space.) Take a few slow, deep breaths, allowing your belly to rise and fall as you settle into your position. With each exhalation, let your muscles go, allowing yourself to "melt" into your supporting surface. Take a few more slow deep breaths and let any remaining tensions go.
Step 2: Concentrate on your breathing Inhale to a silent count of three, allowing your belly to rise, hold for a second at the top of your inhale, then slowly exhale to a silent count of three. Hold for a second at the end of your breath. Repeat this pattern of inhalations and exhalations five times. Next, continue breathing slowly and deeply, but now to a silent count of four. Inhale to a count of four and exhale to a count of four. Repeat five times. (Progress to a count of five, then six.)
Step 3: Re-focus on your surroundings Feel the benefit of your relaxed breathing for a moment and slowly bring your attention back to your surroundings and stretch fully before getting up.
The spinal cord, brain and bladder communicate with one another through nerve signals. But in people who have overactive bladder, this important connection gets fuzzy. The result: discomfort and urine leaks can occur.
Hypnosis aims to help the brain regain control and the brain and spinal cord to reconnect with each other, says Aaron Michelfelder, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
To try hypnosis, seek out a referral to a medical hypnotherapist from the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (www.asch.net). Meanwhile, here's a taste of what the therapy involves:
- Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Allow yourself to relax completely.
- Imagine the connection between your brain, spinal cord and bladder. Some people visualize a tree trunk with branches growing tall. Others simply imagine the spinal cord as a strong cable reaching from their brain to their bladder. Use the image that makes the most sense to you.
- Try to visualize the connection from the brain to bladder growing stronger. "Imagine it getting brighter and wider," says Dr. Michelfelder.
Women who listened to a 15-minute audio recording of deep breathing and visualization exercises twice a day for two weeks slashed their average number of urge incontinence episodes from 42 to 16 a week, Loyola University researchers reported at a meeting of the American Urological Association. What's more, the women boosted their continuous "dry time" from 32 to 100 hours a week.
"This approach helps women focus their minds on what they can achieve," explains Mary Pat FitzGerald, M.D., study co-author. The premise behind this is that if you have ever been dry in the past, then you can be dry all the time."
For help getting yourself into the right state of mind, Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., author of Healing Mind, Healthy Woman: Using the Mind-Body Connection to Manage Stress and Take Control of Your Health (Delta, 1997), put this meditation primer together:
- Let go of tension Take some deep breaths, then concentrate on your forehead, becoming aware of any tension you're holding there. While exhaling, relax your forehead. Now move to your eyes. Note and relax any tension there. Slowly repeat the exercise as you move from your eyes to your mouth and jaw, neck, back, chest and so on down to your toes.
- Make a mental escape Imagine yourself in a place you feel at peace—say, your childhood backyard. Focus on smells (flowers), sounds (birds chirping) and sensations (gentle breezes). Allow yourself to be totally absorbed in the sensual aspects of this special place.
- Practice mindfulness "We tend to focus on what we're doing tomorrow or what happened yesterday," Domar says. "But it helps to be in the moment." By tuning into the task at hand, whether it's making a salad or taking a bath, you can give yourself a reprieve from worries—and stress. And frazzled nerves can make symptoms even more bothersome.