If you have a tough time taking care of your business in a public restroom, you’re not alone. According to the International Paruresis Association, an estimated twenty-one million Americans suffer from paruresis, or what is colloquially known as “shy bladder syndrome.” People who suffer from paruresis find it difficult to urinate when other people are around; they require complete privacy to use the bathroom, struggling to “go” even if someone’s just waiting outside the restroom. While this might sound silly to you, paruresis is believed to be the second most common social phobia, ranking only behind the fear of public speaking.
There’s not a ton of research on what causes paruresis, nor is there much concrete research on how to cure it, but there are some tips to help you overcome it the next time it strikes.
Hold your breath
International Paruresis Association Board of Directors member Dave Kliss swears by the “hold your breath” method. For this technique, you hold your breath for ten seconds, then release. Repeat this for each subsequent breath until you’ve relaxed to the point of no longer feeling “stage fright.” Kliss says this method delivers best results when after the third breath, you begin counting to 100.
Do math in your head
When you were asking your middle school math teacher “when will we ever need this in real life,” who knew they could’ve answered with “because it will help you with your bathroom stage fright”? According to David Gilbert of the EcoSys Wellness Center, mental math is a solid technique for breaking up the mental block caused by paruresis. He explains:
Ignore the fact you have to urinate. Instead, focus on doing addition or multiplication problems in your head. These must be difficult enough that you really need to concentrate, e.g. 16 x 16. It doesn’t matter whether you get the correct answer. The effort is the trick. While intensely concentrating on something else, your mind forgets to be bashful and, lo and behold, you’re urinating.
Give this trick a try next time you’re out to a restaurant. If you need to pee and calculate your percentage of the check, you can even hit two birds with one stone.
Focus on the wall in front of you
You never know from where you’ll find good advice. Some is passed down from generation to generation. Some is found in unsuspecting places, like a Reddit thread, from people with usernames like u/fitznutzz30:
Here’s the trick: stare at the tiniest imperfection on the wall or tile, or just stare in admiration of how straight that grout line is. That will take the focus off your shyness and let the stream flow.
U/gunnerzz1008 backs this up, saying:
This is the method! I stare at the ads on the wall or look at the bubbles in the tile grout.
If these tips don’t help with your paruresis, there are more intense treatments you can pursue. Those with severe cases can turn to a mental health professional for support. Additionally, medications such as anxiety-relieving medications and alpha-adrenergic blockers have been used to treat paruresis as well. It’s important to consult with your doctor before pursuing these treatments.