Other Symptoms

When Anxiety Leads to Urinary Problems

  • Urinary problems are rarely associated with anxiety, but they are surprisingly common
  • Anxiety takes resources away from the area of your brain that controls holding urine
  • Certain types of severe anxiety can lead to a complete lack of bladder control
  • Concerns over urinary issues can lead to self-sustaining anxiety
  • Treatment specifically for urinary difficulties isn’t necessarily possible. But anxiety treatment helps
Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated February 12, 2021

When Anxiety Leads to Urinary Problems

Fear is often self-sustaining. When you have anxiety, and something occurs, your anxiety causes you to worry more about it than you should. That worry means more anxiety, which means more fear, and the cycle continues.

Urinary problems are a clear example of this. Many people with anxiety have issues with the frequency of their urination. When these problems are caused by anxiety they're completely harmless, but that doesn't stop people from worrying about what these urinary problems mean.

Types of Urination Problems

Urination problems come in many different forms, and unfortunately, this variation is one of the reasons they can be hard to link to anxiety. 

There is no denying that urination problems are linked to some very scary diseases, which is why seeing a doctor is so important. Many people with anxiety and urination problems convince themselves they have:

  • Prostate Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis

And many other significant health issues. Unfortunately, these worries can fuel anxiety further, leading to further urination problems and issues understanding other anxiety symptoms. When other health issues are ruled out, anxiety is very often the cause of urination issues.

There are several different types of urination problems as they relate to anxiety. These are analyzed below:

Incontinence (Urinating Without Your Control)

Anxiety does cause an urge to urinate, although the reason is not entirely clear. The most likely cause is the activation of your fight or flight response - the fear response that is triggered by anxiety.

Think of your brain like a computer. When you only open a few programs at a time, the computer generally runs very well. The muscle and brain center that control your need to urinate are an example of this type of program.

But when your fight-or-flight system is activated, as it is with anxiety, the system essentially opens up all of your most important programs at once. Your limbic system triggers your heart, muscles, lungs - it runs everything it needs to allow you to fight or flee. Unfortunately, in order to run these programs, the brain center that controls urination has to shut down, and that's what causes you to urinate when you're afraid.

Who This Affects

This type of urination is far more common in those with phobias, since it generally takes severe fear to cause this type of reaction. But it may occur in other people as well, and of course may be very embarrassing when it does occur.

It's likely that urination once had some type of evolutionary purpose, but no one is yet sure what that purpose may be. While unlikely, it's possible that urination makes fleeing easier, both by reducing weight and reducing the energy you place into preventing urination.

It should also be noted that some people experience the opposite problem - when they're extremely afraid, they simply cannot get themselves to urinate. Most likely this is related to the same issue.

Urinating Often

The most common urination problem is the feeling of needing to urinate often - sometimes as many as 10 to 15 times per day. This is the problem most often linked to diabetes, which is why many people worry about a diabetes diagnosis instead of blaming it on their anxiety.

It's highly likely that this relates back to the activation of the fight or flight system. The constant need to urinate occurs most often in those with general anxiety disorder and panic attacks - two groups that tend to have levels of high anxiety, but not pure terror. It's possible that the body still controls urination just enough to keep it inside, but otherwise causes you to feel like you need to urinate more.

However, another likely cause is simply pressure. When you're anxious, the muscles tense up and your body puts pressure on areas like your bladder and your abdomen. This pressure may also cause you to need to urinate more often. Those with anxiety may also feel more physically tired from all of their anxiety symptoms, and this too may lead to more frequent urination.

It's not entirely clear why some people with anxiety urinate often, but it is a very common anxiety symptom.

Very Low Flow/Nearly No Urination

Finally, another common problem is feeling the need to urinate, but with little coming out. We mentioned earlier that this is often similar to those that cannot control their urination at all. Somehow, when the fight-or-flight symptom is activated, the muscles and brain center that control urination simply don't work properly, and this is the result.

Another reason may related back to those that need to urinate often. Remember, anxiety can make you feel like you need to urinate, but anxiety doesn't create more urine. That means that if you constantly feel like you need to go, you may go to the bathroom but not have very much urine left to void.

This combination can make you worry that you have a prostate-related issue, or something more serious. You should still get checked out by a doctor, just in case. But often the issue is simply that you've already urinated, and while you feel the "need" to go, your body isn't ready to release anything.

Other Possible Urination Problems

Those are the three most common urination problems, but they may not be the only issue. Some people may worry about the color or consistency of their urine. Others may worry about when they need to urinate (for example, at night or during the day).

All of these may be caused by anxiety. In many cases, none of these are a concern at all, but anxiety causes you to worry about them more than you otherwise need to. It's not uncommon for people with anxiety to see urine of a questionable color and Google the symptoms in a way that those without anxiety would never even think of.

Is There a Solution to Urination Problems From Anxiety?

You can't control your urination issue. The most important thing you can do is see a doctor. But once you have, trust their diagnosis. If they think it's most likely anxiety-related, then you're probably one of the millions of people that have urination problems as a result of their anxiety. It's normal, and it's nothing to be ashamed of.


Both anxiety and the fight or flight system cause changes to the body that can lead to urinary difficulties. There is no treatment specifically for those difficulties, but it is possible to treat anxiety. Once anxiety is decreased, the difficulties should reduce or go away.

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

– Anonymous patient


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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