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Blog post | 3 minutes

Erectile dysfunction and anxiety

By Ashton Sheriff

Erectile dysfunction and anxiety

The modern world is accelerating at such a dizzying pace that it’s almost impossible not to feel anxious.

Whether your anxiety is caused by modern-day job hunting, social media, existential anxiety or society’s diverse pressures, it can have a significant effect on your sex life.

Anxiety can make it difficult to get and maintain an erection. If anxiety is interfering with your erections, there are a number of things you can do. But before we get into those, let’s find out how anxiety causes erectile dysfunction.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a profound feeling of worry, panic, or fear. It can be experienced acutely or mildly, but regardless of its intensity, it can interfere with many aspects of your daily life - including your sex life.  Symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Feeling as though danger, panic, or doom may present itself at any moment
  • Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Being unable to think about anything else but the source of your present worry

How does anxiety cause erectile dysfunction?

Anxiety, stress, and worry kick the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) into action. This induces what is more commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.

The fight or flight response increases heart rate, dilates (widens) the airways in the lungs, and increases the supply of blood to the muscles. But this surge of blood to the muscles comes at a cost: less blood is supplied to the penis.

An unimpeded flow of blood is important for getting and maintaining erections. If blood flow to the penis is reduced, achieving a strong erection becomes much harder - and in some cases, impossible.

Treating anxiety-related erectile dysfunction

There are a number of effective ways to reduce your levels of anxiety and restore normal erectile function. Some popular methods include:

Mindfulness-based therapy: mindfulness is essentially awareness of the present moment, and calmly acknowledging your present thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

Studies have shown that mindfulness-based therapy (which consists of breathing exercises and mindful meditation) is a moderately effective way to treat anxiety.

It is believed mindfulness helps combat anxiety by allowing the mindful individual to simply observe emotions that might otherwise trigger bouts of anxiety with a “non-judgemental”, “accepting” air of calmness - thus reducing levels of anxiety.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT is a talking therapy that focuses on correcting negative patterns of thinking and behaviour that exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

There is a wealth of evidence that suggests CBT is successful in treating anxiety disorders, including panic disorders, such that courses of CBT has been made available on the NHS.

Its efficacy lies in its ability to break down overwhelming problems (which cause anxiety) into smaller, manageable chunks. This could be especially useful to those who feel overwhelmed by thoughts of frustration and low self-esteem when experiencing erectile dysfunction.

Medication: although psychological treatment is usually recommended before trying medication, medication can also be an effective way to treat anxiety. This is best decided and managed with your doctor.

To learn more about the effects of the various types of medication used to treat anxiety, check out Mind.org’s page on anxiety and panic attacks.

The bottom line

Anxiety causes erectile dysfunction by activating the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This redirects blood away from the penis, which can result in ED. However, anxiety-related erectile dysfunction can successfully be treated by treatments and therapies that reduce anxiety - such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioural therapy, and in some cases, medication.  

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