Many people experience the uncomfortable emotion of guilt at some point in their lives. It usually comes up as a natural response to when we feel like we’ve done something wrong or may have caused to harm others. Despite the emotion being uncomfortable, it does serve its purpose by either nudging us to make better decisions, make amends and/or change our behaviour. Although it can be helpful in this way, excessive guilt isn’t so helpful and can have negative effects for physical and mental health.
One way that guilt can impact the body is by disrupting bladder function. The bladder is a muscular organ located in the pelvis that stores urine until it is ready to be expelled from the body. The bladder and brain send and receive messages back and forth that allow the bladder to function effectively (e.g. the bladder sending signals to let the brain know it is full, and the brain sending signals to the bladder to release urine). However, excessive guilt can unsettle this connection and lead to bladder issues.
Here are five ways that guilt can affect bladder health:
1. Stress: Guilt can contribute to stress by causing us to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed. Stress activates the body's "fight or flight" response and releasing hormones such as cortisol, causing the bladder to contract more frequently in an effort to empty itself. This can lead to an increased need to urinate, as well as problems such as urinary incontinence.
2. Increased muscle tension: Excessive guilt can cause physical symptoms such as muscle tension, which can affect bladder function and lead to problems such as urinary frequency and urgency. Stress can also cause the muscles in the pelvic floor to become tense.
3. Interference with sleep: Guilt can interfere with sleep, which can in turn affect bladder health. Research has found that disturbed sleep and fatigue is associated with urinary incontinence and symptoms of overactive bladder . As a result, the bladder contracts more frequently and there is an increased need to urinate which can further disrupt sleep.
4. Decreased relaxation: Guilt can also interfere with an individual's ability to relax, which can make it difficult for the bladder to fully empty. When the muscles of the pelvic floor are tense, it can be harder for the bladder to relax and release urine.
5. Coping mechanisms: Guilt can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as avoidance (e.g. isolation) or overcompensation (e.g. pushing oneself too far), which can undermine an individual's wellbeing.
It is important for individuals to recognize the impact that guilt can have on their bladder health and to address and manage their feelings of guilt in a healthy way. This may include practicing stress-reduction techniques, engaging in activities that promote relaxation and self-care, or addressing the underlying factors contributing to guilt. By taking care of your emotional and physical health, individuals can maintain healthy bladder function and overall wellbeing.
 Ge, T. J., Vetter, J., & Lai, H. H. (2017). Sleep Disturbance and Fatigue Are Associated With More Severe Urinary Incontinence and Overactive Bladder Symptoms. Urology, 109, 67–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.urology.2017.07.039