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Stop Stalling: How to Overcome Shy Bowel Syndrome

So, we meet again public bathroom.

You’ve had your own throne to do “your business on” for the last year or so, and now it’s time to share public restrooms with others outside of your home again. Going back to work or school has its own challenges, but does the thought of going Number 2 make you feel anxious or have you stalling?

School and office life aren’t conducive to good gastrointestinal health. Stalls that reach to your knees, paper-thin toilet paper, poor ventilation and toilet showdowns (who’s going to poop first) can wreak havoc on your bowels. Add other factors like inflammatory bowel disease and underlying bowel or bladder disorders, and you’ve got a real potty problem.

While no one really likes to poop in public, it sounds like you may have shy bowel syndrome, or parcopresis, an inability to poop in public.

Do you fear pooping (and peeing) in public?

Do you freeze mid-poop when someone enters the bathroom and silently wait? Do you rush through your business, for fear someone will think you’re going Number 2? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.

“Parcopresis, or shy bowel syndrome, refers to the fear and inability associated with defecating when others are nearby,” said Srinivas Dannaram, MD, a psychiatrist with Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, AZ. “Those with shy bowel syndrome can only pass a bowel movement in toilets that they consider safe and private.”

In addition to a fear of pooping, some people even have a fear of peeing in public, which is known as paruresis, or a shy bladder.

“Those with shy bladder usually feel comfortable urinating in the privacy of their own home, but difficulties can arise when they are in an environment where others may be able to hear or observe them urinating (e.g., public bathrooms, the homes of friends or family members),” Dr. Dannaram said.

The psychology behind the shyness

While shy bladder is one of the criteria for a mental health condition called social anxiety disorder, both conditions have a link to anxiety and can have a very serious impact on your daily life.

“Shy bladder and shy bowel are two forms of toilet phobia associated with social anxiety,” Dr. Dannaram said. “If left untreated, they can lead to significant distress and reduced quality of life, including impaired relationships, social life and confidence as well as difficulty managing jobs, and in some cases, fear of leaving the house—agoraphobia.”

These conditions may be higher in those with underlying bladder or bowel conditions, such as prostate disease and inflammatory bowel disease.

Will you ever be able to poop or pee in public again?

Shy bowel and shy bladder can be lifelong ailments that can cause you significant pains and distress, but both are very treatable. Consult with your health care provider (yes, they are totally down talking about your bowels and bladder), so they can evaluate you and rule out any other physical problems that could be contributing to your shyness.

If the reason for your shyness isn’t physical, Dr. Dannaram said that education and supportive counseling can be helpful.

“General reassurance that there are so many people with this condition and encouraging them to use public bathrooms over time through exposure and response prevention can help people overcome any anxiety they may have about using them,” he said. “If the situation is challenging but manageable, then distraction techniques to overcome thoughts and breathing techniques to overcome physical symptoms are helpful as well."

Some additional tips to help

If you can’t hold it until you get home from school or work, here are some helpful tips to help you better break the seal in a public bathroom with ease:

If you have additional questions or concerns, you can find a Banner Health specialist to help answer any questions (embarrassing or not). You can find one near you by visiting bannerhealth.com.

Related articles:

Behavioral Health Wellness Gastroenterology