What is toilet anxiety?

In this article we will discuss what toilet anxiety is. 

We will also briefly touch on what causes toilet anxiety and what one can do to manage this anxiety related to toilets. 

What is toilet anxiety?

Toilet anxiety refers to fears, apprehension, and general anxiety related to toilets

When it comes to the particular anxiety, there are many individual who experiences this fear related to toilet use either for urinating or from pooping. However, because of the nature surrounding toilet use it is one of the most under-reported phobias or anxieties. 

People are usually reluctant to talk about it or disclose the anxiety with other people and even experts. 

An individual will most likely come to disclose the anxiety only at the point where they are not able to improve or cope with their situation to the point it is causing them physical, emotions, social dysfunction- and this happens usually after years of struggling with the condition. 

Toilet anxiety is an umbrella term used to describe various issues related to using the toilet- be in a public toilet (most likely) as well as their own private toilet that they use. 

Toilet anxiety, from a medical perspective, is seen as toilet phobia and it falls under the Specific anxiety disorder that often occurs social phobia, OCD, agoraphobia and panic disorder, as well as on its own. 

The individual might also have Parcopresis which is the fear about defecating in a public place or/as well as Paresis, the fear about urinating in a public place

Individuals with this anxiety often struggle with thoughts related:

  • Being too far from the toilet
  • To not being able to urinate or defecate
  • Being trapped in
  • Having a panic attack when inside the toilet
  • Being seen and heard
  • Being judged
  • Concerns related to cleanliness and infections
  • Not being able to access a toilet on time
  • Fears related to the toilet’s utilities

While this particular anxiety might seem irrational and not as harmful to one’s life, the anxiety itself can impact the life, day to day goings and doings of an individual to the point that it affects their social relationships as well as their work related responsibilities. 

A person with toilet anxiety might engage in extensive avoidance behaviours such as avoiding going out in public because of their fears, rejecting social meet ups because of their fears, and also avoid going to work because of their fears related to the public toilet at work. 

It can also impact what they eat, when they eat, and how much they eat which could lead to problems like malnutrition, dehydration etc. and this condition also makes travelling difficult often causing individuals to become housebound. 

What are the symptoms of toilet anxiety?

Here are the commonly reported symptoms of general anxiety:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling keyed up
  • Excess perspiration
  • Rapid breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Nightmares or sleep terrors
  • Anxious thoughts and worry
  • Intrusive thoughts about a possible or imagined threat. 

For an individual to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders, these symptoms along with others should be persistent for at least a specific amount of time and should cause dysfunction in all areas of their lives. 

What causes Toilet anxiety?

Now, when it comes to toilet anxiety, there is not much reseach done on the matter to have a conclusive stand on what the cause is. 

However, like other phobias it is generally assumed that it could be because of the interaction between the following factors:

  • Genetic disposition that makes an individual vulnerable to anxiety.
  • Negative experiences related to urinating, defecating as a child or during developmental years.
  • Negative experiences related to public toilets
  • Traumatic experiences related to urinating and defecating in various episodes even during adulthood- for example, your doctor or some other professional might have asked you to provide a urine sample.

It is also possible that this toilet anxiety is a result or a symptom of a possible mental disorder such as:

  • Depression
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Social anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia

What can one do to manage toilet anxiety?

Here are a few things you can do to manage toilet anxiety:

  • Try Deep breathing when you are anxious, usually before you go to the toilet for a few mins.
  • If you are stressed for other reasons, try relaxation techniques to reduce stress as it can impact bowel movements
  • Be prepared when you have to go to a toilet that you are not familiar with like carrying a kit with tissues, soatm, sanitise, etc so that just the knowledge that you have this can be comforting when you attempt to go out.
  • Try gradually exposing yourself to unfamiliar toilets, like starting out by standing in front of it, opening the door, then stepping in, washing hands and so forth. 
  • Be honest with your friends if you are having trouble, it is possible that they too have similar concerns because of how common it is. 
  • Avoid trigger foods before you go out. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, avoid diary. Or avoid drinking too much fluid or eating too much before going.
  • Talk to a professional if the anxiety begins to affect your life negatively.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety refers to the body’s natural response to stress and it involves a fear or apprehension of a possible threat. 

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as 

“…an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

According to this definition, anxiety involves emotions, thoughts, and physiological reactions to a stressor or a state of stress. 

It is a normal response that many people have as a mechanism developed to help people survive and it is what triggers our flight or fight response in the face of danger.

However, when there is no apparent threat and this state of apprehension is caused by triggers that are inappropriate to the anxious response or this state persists for more than six months, it could be possible that the anxiety has developed into a disorder or that in its indication of a negative state of well-being. 

Anxiety that is persistent is a key part of several anxiety disorders identified by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for mental disorders. 

The various types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Panic disorder where the disorder is characterised by recurring panic attacks at unexpected times and individuals usually live in fear of the next panic attack.
  • Specific phobia Disorder where the individual has inappropriate and excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity
  • Social anxiety disorder where individual experiences anxiety symptoms related to the extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations
  • General Anxiety disorder where the individual has a pervasive pattern of excessive, irrational, and inappropriate worry or tension regarding various aspects of their lives. 

What causes anxiety?

When it comes to the causes of anxiety disorders, possible links have been made. These probable causes include:

  • Stress from work, relationships, family issues
  • Genetics vulnerability
  • Family history
  • Childhood experiences
  • Life experiences
  • Medical factors such as a medical condition that causes the stress or effects of a medication. 
  • Brain chemistry and structure. 
  • Withdrawal from a substance
  • Trauma 
  • Loss and death

What are the treatments available for toilet anxiety?

If your symptoms are debilitating or severe to the point where it is getting in the way of your day to day life, the most advisable thing you can do is to seek treatment from a mental health professional.

Various treatment options for anxiety include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy

In terms of Cognitive behavioural therapies your therapist will teach you how to regulate your negative and irrational thoughts when you come across triggers. 

As you engage in therapy you will start learning to alter your thoughts, develop an awareness of how you feel, and as a consequence the way you react in situations where you are faced with a real or imagined trigger. 

Rational Emotive Behavioural therapy

REBT is an action-oriented type of CBT that addresses unhealthy or irrational beliefs and attitudes that influence thoughts,  emotions, and behaviours. 

It follows the ABC model of developing an awareness about the processes that influenced the development of the phobia such as the activating event, the beliefs that were developed as a result and the consequences of those beliefs. 

It uses a method known as “disputing” to assist individuals develop realistic and healthy beliefs and as a consequence develop the ability to rationalise their thoughts and their emotional and behavioural responses as well. 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) 

MBSR is an evidence-based program that involves mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues. 

MBSR could be helpful in helping individuals deal with their phobia as it has been found to be effective in tackling anxiety issues in most cases. 

The program involves teaching and training individuals to develop skills to cope with the anxiety or to reduce the intensity of the anxiety. 

Pharmacological treatment

If your anxiety is extremely severe your doctor may prescribe you antidepressants or an anti-anxiety medication to assist your treatment, your panic, and other physical symptoms.

These medications will most probably be prescribed to you in the case that you have been diagnosed with the disorder, meaning that the anxiety has now affected your life significantly. 

Conclusion

In this article we have discussed what toilet anxiety is. 

We have also briefly touched on what causes toilet anxiety and what one can do to manage this anxiety related to toilets. 

Faq related to toilet anxiety

How do I stop toilet anxiety?

Here are a few things you can do to stop:

  • Try gradually exposing yourself to unfamiliar toilets, like starting out by standing in front of it, opening the door, then stepping in, washing hands and so forth. 
  • Be honest with your friends if you are having trouble, it is possible that they too have similar concerns because of how common it is. 
  • Avoid trigger foods before you go out. For example, if you are lactose intolerant, avoid diary. Or avoid drinking too much fluid or eating too much before going.
  • Talk to a professional if the anxiety begins to affect your life negatively.

Is bathroom anxiety a thing?

Yes. It is a real thing. Bathroom anxiety refers to fears, apprehension, and general anxiety related to toilets. When it comes to the particular anxiety, there are many individuals who experience this fear related to toilet use either for urinating or from pooping. However, because of the nature surrounding toilet use it is one of the most under-reported phobias or anxieties. 

Why am I scared to go to the bathroom?

Toilet anxiety refers to fears, apprehension, and general anxiety related to toilets. It could be caused by:

  • Negative experiences related to urinating, defecating as a child or during developmental years.
  • Negative experiences related to public toilets
  • Traumatic experiences related to urinating and defecating in various episodes even during adulthood- for example, your doctor or some other professional might have asked you to provide a urine sample.

References

Felman. A. What to know about anxiety. Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 3rd February 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323454#what-is-anxiety


Toilet Phobia. AnxietyUk. Retrieved on 3rd February 2022. https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/anxiety-type/toilet-phobia/#:~:text=What%20is%20it%3F,to%20go%20to%20the%20toilet.

Toilet Phobia. ADAVIC. Retrieved on 3rd February 2022. https://www.adavic.org.au/PG-articles-toilet-phobia.aspx

Booth.S. Tips to Ease Your Fear of Pooping in Public Places. WebMD. Retrieved on 3rd February 2022. https://www.webmd.com/ibs/features/pooping-public-places

Cuncic.A.What Is Paruresis? Verywell Mind. Retrieved on3rd February 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-paruresis-3024879#:~:text=Paruresis%20is%20the%20fear%20of%20public%20 toilets%20without%20any%20 medical,can%20learn%20to%20medical%20complications.

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