Other Symptoms

Anxiety and Peeing Problems

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

Anxiety and Peeing Problems

Anxiety is an upsetting issue that often creates symptoms that contribute to further anxiety. There are many instances of anxiety that themselves cause so much distress that they end up leading to a considerable amount of anxiety in the future. It's this self-sustaining nature of anxiety that makes it so hard to treat.

Peeing problems are an unfortunate example of these type of symptom. Many people experience strange urination issues from anxiety, and since peeing problems are often linked to serious health issues, it ends up creating more anxiety.

Extreme Anxiety and Peeing

Peeing issues are not the type of symptom that most people think of when they have problems with anxiety. That is likely the reason that something as simple as urination can cause such anxiety on its own. But anxiety really does cause peeing problems, and these problems may be similar to the health conditions that you worry about.

The biggest worry that people have and the one that causes the most distress is the inability to hold one's bladder after extreme fear. This reaction is not that common, and it requires absolute terror to overwhelm the brain.

The reason this occurs is because the brain can only handle so many processes at any given time. Anxiety is the activation of the fight or flight response, which is a system your body uses to stay safe from harm.

There's no evolutionary reason to care about urinating (since early man wouldn't have experienced shame), so when you're under extreme fear, your body essentially turns off the part of your brain responsible for keeping urine in your bladder, because it's considered less important than the parts of your brain necessary for fighting or running away.

This tends to only occur when the body experiences profound fear, such as the reaction to a phobia, car accident, etc. But it is possible with panic attacks and post traumatic stress disorder, since these can induce some powerful anxiety responses.

Frequent Peeing From Anxiety

A much more common anxiety symptom is frequent urination. Frequent urination causes people to fear for the worst, worried that they have prostate cancer, diabetes, or other issues related to peeing often. While only a doctor can diagnose you, it's uncommon to have these conditions without risk factors. Frequent peeing from anxiety, however, is much more common.

Why this occurs is not entirely clear. Some of the theories include:

  • Busy Brain It's likely that the same reason that incontinence occurs (overwhelmed brain) affects those with moderate and mild anxiety as well, just to a lesser extent. Your brain may simply have less energy to place on holding in urine, thus causing you to need to pee more often.
  • Evolution Another evolutionary theory is that if you are approaching a dangerous situation (thus causing mild to moderate anxiety), you may need to fight or flee at any moment. Urinating may help you lose some excess weight, so that it's easier to run away. Remember, anxiety is the activation of this exact same system, so this may be one of the reasons that your anxiety makes you feel like you need to pee often.
  • Muscle Tension Another theory is much more simplistic - muscle tension. Anxiety causes considerable muscle tension throughout the body, and it's not limited to the muscles you can see and feel. It's possible that anxiety is tensing the muscles around your bladder, causing urinary urgency.
  • Water Use While unlikely, stress does have some unusual effects on your body. Your body may be processing liquids faster, and possibly requiring you to urinate more often to relieve yourself of the excess water.
  • Focus Another possibility is that you don't need to urinate any more than normal at all, but you're noticing the need to pee more often because of your anxiety. Anxiety causes hypersensitivity, which causes the brain to focus directly on the way your body feels almost instantly when it experiences any type of change. You may not need to urinate more, but you may be immediately feeling any need to urinate, thus causing the feeling to feel stronger than normal so that you go to the bathroom.

These are just some of the reasons that anxiety may lead to a need to urinate more often, and chances are they all play some role in one way or another.

Shy Bladder Syndrome

Finally, there is a type of social anxiety marked by an inability to pee in front of others. This is known as parauresis, also called "shy bladder syndrome." It's a term to describe those who simply cannot urinate when there is a feeling as though others are watching.

It often starts during childhood but can develop as an adult. This type of social fear can be so extreme that some people cannot even urinate if someone is in the same building.

In a way, this is its own separate anxiety, rather than necessarily being a symptom of anxiety. But it's a peeing problem nonetheless and can cause significant disruption in a person's life.

Controlling the Peeing Problems From Anxiety

If you've been having peeing problems as a result of your anxiety, the best way to cure it is to reduce your anxiety. Drinking less water is unlikely to work, and may actually make your anxiety issues worse since dehydration can cause anxiety on its own.

It's very important that you don't assume your urination issues are the result of something serious, like diabetes, which is perhaps one of the most common fears people have when they have anxiety. First, diabetes usually takes years to develop. Second, it's easy to test, so if you're truly concerned you can get a quick blood test and have your blood sugar measured immediately. Diabetes is always a health problem worth paying attention to, but assuming your urination issues are the result of undiagnosed diabetes is only going to make your anxiety worse.

If you find yourself feeling as though you need to urinate all the time, the best thing you can do is simply learn to relax. Getting up and walking around can be a big help. Often sitting actually creates more urine anyway, so you'll find yourself needing to pee all the time especially when you stand up. There are also several relaxation strategies that can be very helpful, such as:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Deep breathing
  • Visualization

These types of relaxation exercises should improve your anxiety a bit, which ultimately should decrease that need to urinate. But you'll still need to work on your anxiety in general if you truly want to make a significant difference in your symptoms.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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