We’ve probably all experienced occasional feelings of discomfort over using a public restroom. It may be due to the cleanliness—or lack thereof—of the restroom itself. Or the sense that the space is too quiet, too near the company water cooler, or too lacking in privacy. Some individuals may experience an inexplicable, uncontrollable panic when it comes to relieving themselves anywhere but their own powder room at home. While it may seem silly, this phobia can be very real and negatively affect a person’s health. Here are several reasons one may experience a toilet phobia, and tips for overcoming the anxiety, discomfort, and ill health effects of such a phobia.
10. Bashful Bowel Syndrome
Parcopresis, also known as bashful bowel syndrome, is an anxiety disorder in which an individual is unable to have a bowel movement in a public restroom. Persons suffering from this condition feel enormous distress over performing this natural function in a setting where they may be overheard. They may feel inexplicable shame over this normal bodily function with its noises and smells. Furthermore, they may not understand why they feel such anxiety and guilt. Fear of being trapped in the confined spaces of a restroom stall may also contribute to the anxiety of this disorder.
9. Bashful Bladder
Bashful bladder, or paruresis, is a disorder in which a person is unable to urinate in a public restroom. Similar to bashful bowel syndrome, the sufferer may experience anxiety over performing normal bodily functions. This person generally prefers to relieve the bladder in the privacy and comfort of home. He or she may wish to relieve themselves in the public restrooms at work, in restaurants, or while out shopping. However, such individuals may find themselves unable to relax enough to go. The International Paruresis Association is an organization dedicated to helping those who suffer from parusesis find ways to overcome this phobia.
8. Social Anxiety Disorders
Bashful bowel syndrome and bashful bladder are two types of social anxiety disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a social anxiety disorder or social phobia is an inability to perform normal daily tasks. This inability is due to the intense fear of judgment by others or an overwhelming sense of self-consciousness or of being on display. Not everyone who suffers social anxiety experiences bashful bladder or bashful bowels. Other signs of social phobia include difficulty meeting or talking with new people and distress over speaking in front of a group. Symptoms may include flushing, dry mouth, stuttering, rapid heart rate, and nausea.
A toilet phobia may not be at all related to the act of urinating or defecating but may instead be related to claustrophobia. Claustrophobia is a fear of being enclosed in small spaces. The fear of being trapped in a restroom stall and unable to unlatch the door may not make sense to most individuals. However, the anxiety caused by this phobia can be very real and overwhelming to those who experience it. Single stall restrooms are generally small in size, windowless, and cheerless. The fear of such a cramped space can be enough to prevent those suffering from claustrophobia from even entering the room.
Agoraphobia is similar to claustrophobia in that the sufferer may experience panic when confined to a small space. The agoraphobe suffers from anxiety and distress when facing situations from which he or she may not be able to escape. Small spaces such as elevators or restrooms can trigger the fear of a panic attack. So can large crowds, standing in long lines, or riding public buses or subways. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of agoraphobia may include anxiety over leaving home alone, being in the open spaces of parking lots or shopping centers, and driving over bridges.
5. Mysophobia (Germaphobia)
A fear of germs, known clinically as mysophobia, can cause an individual to avoid public restrooms at all costs. No one wants to pick up the germs that lead to colds, flu, or gastrointestinal infections. However, a germaphobe experiences such distress and anxiety at the thought of germs that he or she may avoid shaking hands, touching doorknobs, and using public restrooms. This anxiety can lead to a desire to obsessively wash hands, bathe, and disinfect surfaces. Public restrooms can be especially distressing to a germaphobe, who suffers a fear of coming into contact with body fluids, dirty objects, and spaces visited by numerous strangers.
4. Health Issues Caused by Toilet Phobias
Toilet phobias can be physically debilitating. First, there is the mental toll taken by the anxiety that accompanies these disorders. Secondly, there are physical repercussions to being unable to relieve the bladder of urine or the bowels of stool. An inability to relieve oneself while at work, out shopping, or traveling can lead to health issues. Holding in stool can lead to constipation, a decreased ability to sense the need to go, and even bowel impaction. Holding in urine can lead to urinary tract infections. Any bacteria lingering in the bladder is allowed to fester there rather than quickly flushing from the system.
3. Techniques for Decreasing Anxiety
The first tip to decreasing toilet anxiety involves thinking through the trigger for your fears. Are you afraid that someone might hear you? If so, think about the worst case scenario if someone did hear you. In reality, everyone uses the restroom every day, and others think nothing of you doing so as well. Breathing techniques may help you to relax in order to perform this physical function when you are feeling uncomfortable. Arming yourself with disinfectant hand wipes may ease the anxiety that accompanies germaphobia.Related: 9 Reasons Your Poo May Be Extra Stinky and When to Call the Doctor
2. Seeking Help for Easing Phobias
Sometimes anxiety disorders cannot be eased without professional help. You may find that the fear of public restrooms causes so much anxiety that you are unable to perform everyday tasks. In this case, consider asking your physician for help. Phobias that prevent you from being able to go to work, do your grocery shopping, travel, or enjoy an outing with friends keep you from living your life to the fullest. Toilet anxiety that causes constipation, bladder pain, and frequent urinary tract infections is anxiety that is hurting your health.
1. Medical Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorders
Your doctor can give you a medical exam to seek out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your distress. Then, your doctor may refer you to a mental health professional to provide relief from your anxiety. Treatment may include cognitive behavioral therapy to help you face stressful situations. Antidepressants may help with social phobias caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain that lead to anxiety. Anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines may be used for a short time to reduce your anxiety until behavioral therapy provides relief.Related: 12 Tips You Never Knew You Needed for Using the Toilet