The Role of Mindfulness in Pelvic Organ Prolapse Recovery
By Lara Desrosiers
MSc. OT Reg. (Ont.)
One major challenge that often comes alongside the Pelvic Organ Prolapse experience is something that I like to call the “POP Hijack”. This describes the many ways that prolapse sensations, activities to manage or control prolapse, rules about moving to “stay safe”, and worry/distress related to prolapse can hijack our attention, our energy and consequently our lives.
Some symptoms of the POP Hijack include:
- Disconnection from important people and important parts of life
- Increasing irritability
- Hypervigilance and rigidity in movement
- Late night/all day google and forum searches
- Frequently checking your POP (visually, manually, or feeling for a reproduction of symptoms)
I certainly have noticed all of the above show up in my POP recovery from time to time and I talk to my clients about these experiences often. It has become clear to me that these are very common and natural experiences as we find ourselves grappling with a new diagnosis that (in many cases) we feel blind-sided to receive and start to make sense of what it means for us.
However, when hypervigilance and the “POP Hijack” hangs around, we are often held back from being able to let go of the POP monitor from time to time in service of making space for the other important parts of our lives.
For me (and many of my clients), this has involved moments of utter exhaustion and a temporary decision to throw up my hands, ignore my POP and POP symptoms, and plunge ahead with life.
Was this the solution? Maybe for short chunks of time, but more often than not, this approach resulted in symptom flare-ups, guilt, shame, and a quick return to even more hypervigilance.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Early on in my recovery, I often vacillated between these 2 extreme approaches to my POP.
Until I found my way to a more balanced middle ground.
And this is where mindfulness comes in!
Mindfulness can help us to sort out how to integrate POP as a part of our experience, but not the whole!
It is paying attention, with intention, in order to foster an awareness that is curious, compassionate, and non-judgmental so that we can build a greater wisdom of ourselves and choose responses that will move us towards the life and recovery that we hope for.
Here are 3 specific examples of how mindfulness can and has facilitated POP recovery for many
1. Pelvic Floor Exercises
A BIG part of POP management for folx is pelvic floor therapy with an Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist. This involves coaching these muscles to do more of what we need in order to optimally support the pelvic organs. It could involve releasing tension to support the mobility of the pelvic floor muscles, supporting tissues, and body as a whole. It could involve coaching greater activation and strength in the pelvic floor muscles. It could involve coaching more effective recruitment, release and coordination of the pelvic floor muscles. The coaching needs of your pelvic floor muscles is very individual. BUT regardless of what coaching your pelvic floor muscles might need, building a brain body connection to these muscles very often requires a lot of attention, concentration, and effort initially. It can be easy to get sucked into frustration and a sense of defeat, approaching the body from a lens of control and coercion.
Conversely, when we apply a mindful lens to this very new process of connection, we can find some ways to acknowledge the newness, show ourselves some love, and are better able to meet our bodies where they are. This often leads to finding that connection with greater ease and, with time and practice, automaticity.
2. Breaking The Sensation/Tension Cycle
The pelvic floor muscles are intrinsically connected to our autonomic nervous system. When we are under stress, this is a part of the body (much like the neck, and jaw) where we tend to hold tension. Where there is tension there is often sensation. Therefore added tension in this area of the body can often ramp up POP sensations.
Building awareness of our own stress/tension/sensation cycles in order to pinpoint opportunities to calm the body and can help us to achieve a greater sense of agency in a POP flare up. This is mindfulness in action!
3. Managing Challenging Thoughts And Emotions
This is just a small sample of the big emotions that womxn navigating POP are often struggling with. What do we do with it all? Perhaps you have tried to push it aside, distract yourself, or “think more positively”. There may be times when these tactics to set aside big feelings or worries provides some short-term relief, but what folks often discover is that at some point or another, these feelings demand to be acknowledged, heard, felt and explored. Evidence-based mindfulness strategies can help us to explore thoughts and emotions with curiosity and compassion. In this way, we can move through the darkness and find more space for the light.
How do I get started?
Start to get curious about your “POP Hijack”. Ask yourself, when does POP seem to take over my attention and my actions in ways that are no longer helpful to me?
When this happens, how do I feel (emotionally & physically)?, what are my thoughts?, what actions do I take?
Mindfulness starts with self-awareness…
Perhaps you notice that when you wake up in the morning feeling symptomatic, you feel as though your whole day is ruined and find yourself to be irritable and unable to enjoy a sense of connection with your loved ones.
Perhaps you notice that when you see a story about someone else’s postpartum or retirement experience, you start to feel jealous and become hijacked by grief, anger, or even self-blame because this period of your life has not been what you hoped for due to POP.
What are the difficult moments for you? Where could it be helpful to mindfully try a new approach?
Mindfulness is about so much more than meditation or relaxation. It is about practicing skills to bolster emotional resilience along the way.
I would love to help you do just that.
Join me for the Mindfulness 4 POP workshop series. This 4 week series is designed to give you the skills you need to approach your POP recovery with greater ease and emotional resilience so that you can reconnect with the other pieces of your life that matter!
Interested in learning more?
Join our free webinar Wed, Jun 22nd to learn how using mindfulness can bolster POP recovery.