Is there a connection between stress and pelvic pain?

By Lorraine Faehndrich

Did you know that traditional systems of medicine, from Chinese Medicine (more than 2500 years old) to Ayurveda (5000 years old) to Native American Medicine (up to 40,000 years old!), all incorporate mind body principles.  These ancient systems of healing consider all aspects of an individual’s life, including how much stress they feel, how much joy they experience, their past experiences, work and relationships, as integral components of health (and potential contributors to chronic pain).

It is a relatively recent phenomenon of modern western medicine (in the last 400 hundred years or so) to split the mind and the body, to attempt to treat a person without looking at the impact that their thoughts and emotions, stress and trauma, have on their physical body (including their nervous system, immune system, pain pathways, and levels of tension in the body).  

Luckily all this is changing. Science is catching up. Research in mind body medicine, pain science and neuroscience are supporting what ancient systems of medicine have known and practiced successfully for literally thousands of years.  

Unfortunately due to modern medicine’s reductionist view, and the separation of all things spiritual, mental, and emotional from the health and wellness of the physical body, we have lived through hundreds of years of shaming not only around aspects of mental and emotional health, but all things feminine and intuitive, including the wisdom of the body, the earth, and ancient traditions.  

So it’s understandable that when you hear someone say, “Stress or emotions are contributing to your pain.” or “there may be a mind body component to pelvic pain”, that you might hear that as… “You’re making this up.” or “you’re responsible.” Afterall there are plenty of doctors that have actually said this in dismissive ways…to many women, including many of the women I’ve worked with.  

We have issues!

Both with how our current medical model views and treats women, and with the significant limitations of a medical approach that has consciously separated the mind, emotions, and life experiences from what is happening physically in the body.  

I 100% understand why many women react negatively when they hear that stress and other mind body factors may be causing or contributing to pelvic pain.

They understandably hear that it’s somehow their fault, and they are now responsible for figuring out what to do about it.

But here’s the reality:

Stress, trauma, emotions, thoughts, and life experiences DO play a significant role in all kinds of chronic pain and illness.

Research shows this, and there is a growing number of pelvic pain specialists that understand and recommend addressing the mind body components of pelvic pain. These things impact your brain and your body, and you are in no way responsible for this – any more than you’re responsible for getting the flu or breaking your arm.

If you’re not addressing the “mind body” components of pelvic pain….you may not be able to relieve pelvic pain.

If you feel dismissed, blamed, frustrated, or hopeless that stress, emotions, or negative thinking may be contributing to your pain, don’t let that stop you.  I get it.  I’ve been there, and I’ve helped many other women who’ve been there too.  

You can empower yourself around your health.  You can learn how to address stress, trauma, and emotions in effective ways that calm your nervous system, deactivate pain pathways, and ultimately lead to lasting relief.  

A word on mindfulness and meditation

If you’ve tried meditation and mindfulness and found some relief but haven’t yet relieved your pain completely, know that while mindfulness practices can be very effective in helping to manage stress and reduce pain, they are one component of a mind body approach to pain relief. There are other important factors like learning how to heal the impact of past trauma, teach your brain that emotions are safe to feel, and effectively lead your mind.  

What’s Next?

The first thing I recommend to all the women I work with is to ask themselves what else is going on in their life besides their pain, and what was going on in their life before their pain began.  (That question and others like it are on my intake form and the answers are always revealing.)

You don’t have to know what to do about any of this yet (and in case you’re wondering, you don’t need to remove stress from your life to relieve pelvic pain). There’s lots of information on my website and blog to help you address these things once you identify them, but the first step is getting real with yourself.  

  • What else is going on in your life besides your pain?  
  • What was going on before your pain began?
  • How do you treat yourself?  Are you kind to yourself?  Do you tend to put pressure on yourself? Any chance you’re slightly perfectionistic?  A high achiever?
  • How are you at speaking up?
  • Have you had any trauma (physical, emotional, sexual, or medical) that you haven’t fully healed?
  • How do you feel about your work, your home, your relationships, yourself?  

Start there and see what comes up.  Take some time to go inward and be present with yourself. Remember, this is NOT about blame, it’s about self-discovery, self-understanding, and ultimately self love, compassion, and kindness.   

You may have to push away those critical voices in your head for a while to be able to do this, but my guess is, you’ve probably been dealing with that inner critic for a long time.  Probably way before your pain began.  Tell me where I’m wrong?

Hang in there!  You’re not alone.  It can be difficult at the beginning, but you can do it. I have seen so many women go through this process and not only relieve pain, but find more self love and acceptance, and more confidence and joy in their lives as a result.  

You can do it! I’m here to help.  

Get On the Path to Lasting Relief from Pelvic Pain with my FREE "7 Reasons You're Still in Pain" e-book.

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1 Comment

  1. courtenay

    i have a pelvic floor PT, PhD who is fabulous in Chapel Hill NC. however she is cram packed with few cancellations. it took a long time to find the right fit, but she is a great fit, and i am grateful. however, i need to do some bodymind psych work (no more just talk therapy) for long term sexual abuse. do you know of anyone in my area who might be of the more enlightened mindset?

    Thank you in advance.

    Reply

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