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Can Incontinence Be Caused by Stress?

As well as there being physical causes for incontinence, mental well-being and stress could also be a trigger.

9 min read
Can Incontinence Be Caused by Stress?
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Can Incontinence Be Caused by Stress?

As well as there being physical causes for incontinence, mental well-being and stress could also be a trigger.

Can Incontinence Be Caused by Stress?

As well as there being physical causes for incontinence, mental well-being and stress could also be a trigger.

This article discusses mental health. If you or anyone you know needs immediate support, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For emergencies call 000.  

When we think of causes of incontinence, it’s common we think of those that are more physical in nature - illnesses, injuries and infection.  

But something we might not commonly think about, are mental and emotional causes of incontinence. 

In this article, we set out to explore the impact of our mental health on our body, and answer the question - can incontinence be caused by stress?

The link between physical and mental health

Before we get into the nitty gritty of stress and incontinence, it’s important to understand how our physical and mental health is linked.

Poor mental health can affect the body in many ways, in fact, research shows [1] that someone with mental health conditions is more likely to have a preventable health condition. For example, depression can cause headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems, and anxiety can lead to gut issues and insomnia. 

The reasons why mental conditions can cause these kinds of health issues come down to a variety of factors, all of which vary from person to person. According to the UK Mental Health Foundation UK Mental Health Foundation, these factors can include: 

1. Genetics - Your genes can play a significant role when it comes to your mental health. You may be predisposed to be more likely to develop a mental health problem, and/or develop physical health issues.

2. Low motivation - Stress, anxiety and depression - along with other mental health conditions - can affect energy levels and motivation, which can mean a person is likely to prioritise taking action to improve their health. 

3. Access to support - Not everyone has the means to access ongoing mental health support to suit their needs. Therefore may continue to live with poor mental health which could lead to physical health conditions.

4. Misdiagnosis - Research shows that misdiagnosis of anxiety and mood disorders [2] can be extremely common. It is possible that health professionals may diagnose a patient with a physical condition, but not attribute the symptoms and/or cause to mental health issues like stress, anxiety and depression.

Can stress cause incontinence?

Now we know more details about how mental health and physical health are linked, let’s look into the more specific connection between stress and incontinence. 

While stress incontinence is one of the types of urinary incontienence, that’s actually caused by physical stressors (i.e activities that cause abdominal pressure). In this article, we’re instead looking at emotional stress’ impact on continence. 

A Norwegian study found that people with poor mental health are 1.5 times more likely to experience incontinence [3]. 

While there is still a lot of research to be done on stress causing incontinence, there are still some reported theories as to why it can happen: 

      Increased muscle tension - When you’re stressed, you can tense a range of muscles in your body which can include the muscles around your bladder, increasing the urge to urinate.

      Changes to chemical makeup - Ongoing, or chronic, stress can alter the chemicals in your brain. This may lower the mood-boosting chemical, serotonin, which researchers have found can be linked to an overactive bladder [4] [5].

      Nervous system disruption - The communication between your brain and bladder can be disrupted when you’re stressed. The nervous system becomes overloaded due to the stress and can’t decipher those brain-to-bladder messages, meaning the reflex or control over urination is compromised.  

As for whether stress causes faecal incontinence, studies have shown stress to be both a cause symptom and a flare-up trigger for those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) [6]. IBS is described as a stress-sensitive disorder and therefore stress management is a crucial element as part of the overall treatment of IBS. 

As for how stress can cause and trigger IBS, the same study showed that it can negatively impact intestinal sensitivity, motility (the contraction of the muscles that move contents in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract), GI microbiota (good gut bacteria) and the central nervous system among other bodily functions. These factors can all contribute to gas and diarrhea and abdominal pain.

How to manage stress

Knowing healthy ways to manage stress can also help to manage incontinence episodes. 

1. Physical activity

Moving your body is a great way to release endorphins (the happy hormone!) and reduce stress. Whatever physical activity you enjoy doing is best, so that can be walking, dancing, yoga, HIIT - because if you enjoy it, you’re more likely to do it, and consistently.  

2. Healthy eating habits

Research has shown that eating a balanced diet is not only beneficial for your physical health but your mental health too [7]. In fact, 95% of our serotonin is produced in our GI tract which indicates that our gut health is not only crucial in maintaining physical health but our mood too [8]. 

So what foods and nutrients should you be including? 

      Fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy products and occasional red meat have been associated with a reduced risk of depression. [9]

    Omega-3 fats found in oily fish like salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, mackerel and perch can help improve depression symptoms as they can easily travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules. Their anti-inflammatory properties may also help relieve symptoms [10]. Omega-3s are also said to be helpful in preventing dementia.

      Wholegrains feed our good gut bacteria which communicates with our brain. Because they’re considered a ‘slow release’ carbohydrate, they are a great, steady source of fuel for the brain. Essentially they’ll help you avoid those 3pm crashes!

      So it’s not technically food, but drinking water is another crucial element of maintaining optimum mental health and mood. Water helps your body create neurotransmitters, the chemicals that help your brain and hormones communicate with the rest of your body to action everyday movements and processes. Dehydration can affect your mental performance [11].  

Just as there are foods that can positively impact your mood and mental health, there are foods that can do the opposite.  

      Alcohol is considered a depressant and can affect your mental and physical health. If you wish to drink, do so responsibly and follow health guidelines. Long-term alcohol consumption can increase the risk of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and can lead to dependence and addiction. If you need any support with managing your alcohol, speak to your GP or reach out to one of the many resources available here.

      Ultra-processed foods like sweets, takeaway meals and salty snacks are higher in calories, salt, added sugar and saturated fats. Studies have shown that eating highly processed foods regularly each week can be linked to a higher occurrence of anxiety, depression and stress symptoms [12][13][14].

3. Mindfulness & meditation

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment, and one way to practice mindfulness is through meditation. 

Meditation itself can come in a variety of forms, but even just five to 10 minutes of deep breathing and focusing in on your body, how you’re feeling and letting any negative feelings and thoughts leave your body can have benefits. 

Research by Harvard University found that 8 weeks of regular meditation practice was scientifically proven to alleviate stress [15]. 

4. A good night’s sleep

Each stage of sleep (NREM and REM) plays an important role in maintaining brain health to enable better function including thinking, learning and memory. But research also shows that brain activity during sleep has significant impact on mental health. 

Sufficient sleep (at least 8 hours for adults) allows the brain to process emotional information, whereas a lack of sleep can disrupt this process and negatively influence mood and emotional reactivity, and is linked to mental health disorders and their severity [16]. In short, getting enough sleep makes it easier to manage your emotions and deal with stress. 

5. Speak to your GP

Help is always there when you need it. Speaking to your GP is a great way to get the extra support that’s tailored to your individual stress level and overall health needs. They may also refer you to a psychologist who can further assist with your emotional and wellbeing.

Continence management

If you are experiencing incontinence, you aren’t alone. One in three Australians have incontinence and despite what many people think, there are plenty of management options out there. Here at ConfidenceClub, we offer a high-quality, European-made range of pull-ups, pants, boosters and more, to help you feel more comfortable and confident when it counts. 

If you need any help finding your fit, don’t worry, our  Help Me Choose quiz will help you select the product/s best suited to your needs.

If for any reason you receive your product/s and you’re not 100% satisfied, we will happily give you your money back and even cover the cost of return shipping if you have any leftover product you don’t wish to keep. We’re that confident in our range.


1 - https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/physical-health-and-mental-health#:~:text=Our%20bodies%20and%20minds%20are,insomnia%2C%20restlessness%20and%20difficulty%20concentrating.
2 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184591/
3 - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/nau.22921
4 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8437248/
5 - https://www.auajournals.org/doi/10.1016/S0022-5347%2805%2967152-2
6 -  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202343/ 
7 - https://www.bmj.com/content/369/bmj.m2382
8 - https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
9 - https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/food-drink-and-mental-health#:~:text=There%20is%20some%20evidence%20that,fats%20can%20improve%20mental%20health.
10 - https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/omega-3-fatty-acids-for-mood-disorders-2018080314414#:~:text=How%20might%20omega%2D3s%20improve,that%20may%20help%20relieve%20depression.
11 - https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/food-drink-and-mental-health#:~:text=There%20is%20some%20evidence%20that,fats%20can%20improve%20mental%20health.
12 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35063203/
13 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33917015/
14 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30982472/
15 - https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/05/26/harvard-neuroscientist-meditation-not-only-reduces-stress-it-literally-changes-your-brain/?noredirect=on
16 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25698339/
17 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18979946/