Overcoming Parcopresis: Coping with Shy Bowel Syndrome in PublicPublished on Tuesday, October 17, 2023 by
The Challenge of Parcopresis: When Nature Calls in Public
Have you ever been out in public, and before you realize it, you feel that pressure in your stomach, and you have to get to the bathroom? The problem is you have a hard time, or worse, you absolutely cannot use the restroom in public. Have no fear because you are not alone. There is actually a name for this feeling, Parcopresis.
Unmasking Parcopresis: Understanding the Fear of Public Restrooms
Parcopresis is a psychological condition that involves difficulty or inability to defecate in public restrooms due to an overwhelming fear of perceived judgment. It’s important to mention that this condition is not solely exclusive to public settings. Some individuals might also feel anxious about restroom use at home when family or friends are present. Not only can this condition influence an individual’s comfort level in their workplace and willingness to travel, but it can cause disruptions in various aspects of life, including relationships and social engagements.
Common symptoms of parcopresis include:
- Problematic or complete inability to have a bowel movement in public restrooms
- Physical manifestations of anxiety (racing heart, excessive sweating, nausea, etc.)
- Avoidance of public bathrooms; seeking out more private-public bathrooms
- Disordered eating behaviors like reducing food intake to avoid using public restrooms
- Avoiding social activities and holidays where restroom use may trigger anxiety
Childhood Fears That Persist: The Origins of Shy Bowel Syndrome
Thinking back to elementary school, I cannot remember when I went number two in the bathroom at school. I trained my body to wait until I got home; I mean, could you imagine? What if someone walked into the restroom while I was pooping? This has carried over into adulthood as well. There have been numerous times when I would have terrible stomach aches from holding it until I got home or, worse, could not go when I finally felt like I was in a private enough location.
When I tell my husband about this, he laughs at me and cannot understand why I feel this way. Of course, having bowel movements are natural, and literally, everyone poops, but the struggle is still real when I find myself in a location where too many people are around. Now, with having IBS and runner's colitis, I have learned that pooping in public is far easier than pooping my pants in public. For myself, the problem is not what I would define as severe, but it can be debilitating for others.
Coping with Parcopresis in the Presence of Physical Conditions
So, what is behind this shy bowel condition? Shy bowel is a condition classified as a form of social anxiety. For some people, parcopresis is worse when you suffer from inflammatory bowel or prostate disease. These are physical ailments where a sufferer cannot wait to use the restroom and has no choice but to use the closest one. There are times when these physical conditions are not present, and bathroom anxiety is the condition a person is living with. Talking to your healthcare provider about your parcopresis, whether from a physical or non-physical condition, can open the door to treatment pathways.
Steps Towards Liberation: Seeking Help and Treatment Options for Parcopresis
Treatment options include education as well as supportive counseling. Because of the social anxiety component, a mental health specialist can work with you on coping mechanisms. For some, dealing with past experience or trauma can identify the root cause of the factor associated with the development of the condition. Another thing that can give solace to someone can be the concepts found in the popular book, “Everyone Poops.” This book reminds you that this is something all people do, and we are all literally taught to poop in the toilet when we are young. Other tips are lining the toilet bowl with toilet paper to reduce the sound and flushing frequently if you are concerned about the smell; I call these courtesy flushes.
Breaking The Taboo: Tips and Techniques for Overcoming Bathroom Anxiety
Personally, some things I have done to help me feel more comfortable are putting on my headphones and listening to music. This helps block out the sounds outside the stall or inside the stall. I also discuss it regularly if you have read any of my articles. Being a runner with some form of IBS has made me far less shy about using the restroom in public. Talking about it has helped me normalize it because then it is far less anxiety-provoking. I have also purchased a decent amount of Poo-Pourri.
However, I would be lying if I told you I did not still have times when I get anxious about going number two. I wouldn't say I like overcrowded public bathrooms, the gym locker room, or the pre-race port-a-potty where people are lined up outside. Those all cause excessive pressure because “What would people think?” or “They know what I’m doing!” Frankly, the logical side of my brain knows that this is where you go; this is the whole point of the toilet. When I get anxious, I remind myself of the previously mentioned tips. I calm my mind and block out the world. Worst case scenario, I have great material for writing or storytelling because, at the end of the day, Everyone poops.
- Shy bowel (parcopresis). (2020, July 14). Bladder and bowel anxieties. Mind Over Gut Psychological Services. https://www.bba.mindovergut.com/shy-bowel/
- Olsson, R. (2021) Stop Stalling: How to Overcome Shy Bowel Syndrome. Teach Me: Banner Health. https://www.bannerhealth.com/healthcareblog/teach-me/stop-stalling-how-to-overcome-shy-bowel-syndrome
Kari TallentMA, RD