Maybe you dread the idea of having to poop in a public restroom. Or maybe you instead worry you’ll have an accident while you’re out on the town.
Lots of people have these fears. Take some simple steps to help settle your nerves and your bowels.
Afraid of Using Public Bathrooms?
Tackle “toilet anxiety.” Imagine what would happen if someone overheard you using the restroom. Most people can’t go there in their head, because the thought seems too stressful.
But if you think of what could happen next — after they heard you — that can help ease your fears.
“It’s like a child turning on the light to see what the noise is in the closet,” says Simon Rego, PsyD, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center at Albert Einstein College. “It’s never as bad as you think.”
Try to go at home. Don’t rush yourself out the door. Since you’ll feel most comfortable using your own bathroom, give yourself enough time to do so before you go out, suggests Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, a gastroenterologist based in Lake Shore, Ill.
Breathe. Feeling anxious can make your urge to go worse, but relaxing can help ease it. “There’s a real brain-gut connection,” Rego says.
When you feel yourself getting stressed out, slowly inhale and exhale, breathing into your belly, for a count of 10, he says.
Do You Fear Not Making It to The Toilet on Time?
Everyone’s bowels “go off” once in a while. But how often do you find yourself worrying about having an accident?
Be honest if you’re having trouble. If you feel you can’t control your bowels, and making it to the bathroom on time is a frequent concern, there may a medical reason for it. Let your doctor know what you’re going through so they can help.
“One accident is really one too many,” says Matilda N. Hagan, MD, an inflammatory bowel disease specialist at Mercy Medical Center.
If your doctor says your troubles stem from a reaction to a medication, they can change your prescription. They can also check to see if a condition is causing your diarrhea. Treatment can often help when that’s the case.
Both irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease can bring on bouts of diarrhea. If you have one of these problems, an urgent need to go may be something you can’t completely avoid. But there are things you can do to help the situation:
Bring along a safety net. Keep an emergency kit in your purse, briefcase, or backpack. You can pack it with things like toilet paper, wet wipes, antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer, any medications you’re taking that ease symptoms of diarrhea, and even a change of clothes. You may not need any of it, “but it can ease concerns,” Rosenberg says.
Be proactive. “Taking an over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medicine a half hour before you go out can stave off symptoms for a while,” Hagan says. Know that your trip out will include a meal? Ask your doctor if it’s a good idea for you to take an over-the-counter med 30 minutes before you eat.
Avoid your “trigger foods.” Dairy products like milk, soft cheeses, and ice cream can cause stomach pain, bloating, and gas for some people. Items high in fructose (such as fruit juice) and drinks with caffeine can also bring on diarrhea.
Since everyone responds differently to foods, “keep a food diary to track what you eat and how you feel,” Rosenberg says. Over time, you’ll know what to steer clear of when you’re going to be away from home.
Put yourself in the driver’s seat. Take charge when you’re traveling. “You may feel more in control if you can stop when necessary to take restroom breaks,” Rosenberg says.
You can map out restroom locations along the way, he says. You can even download a bathroom locator app on your smartphone. If you’re flying on an airplane, choose an aisle seat near the restroom.
Ask your doctor about antidepressants. Low-doses of these meds can reduce the pain signals that go from your gut to your brain. Because of that, doctors sometimes use them to ease anxiety and symptoms of diarrhea in people who have IBS or other gastrointestinal disorders. Your doctor can let you know if this might help you.
Don’t let fear control you. Just because you can picture yourself having an accident on a beach or elsewhere doesn’t mean you will.
“We all tend to exaggerate in our minds,” Rego says.
Question your fears. “If you ask yourself how many times you’ve had a fear versus the times you’ve actually had an accident,” he says, “you might find you’ve had thousands of fearful thoughts but only a few – if any real-life events.”