Loss of Bladder and/or Bowel Control - Anxiety Symptoms
The Loss of Bladder Control or Bowel Control Anxiety Symptom common descriptions:
- You have a sudden urge to urinate and the urge may be so difficult to stop that you experience involuntary loss of urine.
- You feel a sudden urge to urinate that’s difficult to control.
- You experience uncontrollable incontinence.
- You frequently experience the urge to urinate, and on occasion, have “accidents” where you can’t get to the bathroom quick enough.
- You have a sudden urge to have a bowel movement, which you can’t seem to stop or control.
- You have an urge to have a bowel movement but sometimes you can’t make it to the bathroom fast enough, which then causes a bowel movement “accident.”
- You are overly aware of having a urinary or bowel movement “accident” in public.
- You are overly sensitive to urinary or bowel movement urges and where they occur.
- You’ve had to wear protection against uncontrollable urinary or bowel movements.
- You’ve had to limit your lifestyle because of the risk of having an involuntary urinary or bowel movement “accident.”
This loss of bladder or bowel control symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you might feel like you could lose control once in a while and not that often, feel like you could lose control off and on, or feel like you could lose control all of the time.
This loss of bladder or bowel control symptom may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
This loss of bladder or bowel control symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.
This loss of bladder or bowel control symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.
This loss of bladder or bowel control symptom can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
This symptom can be more disconcerting when in public or in important family settings.
This symptom can be associated with anxiety- and stress-caused digestive issues, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and so on.
How does anxiety cause loss of bladder control or bowel control?
Behaving apprehensively (anxiety) causes the body to produce the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response or emergency response.
As we mention in Chapter 3 in the Recovery Support area of our website, a part of the stress response changes cause the body to eliminate waste as quickly as possible. It does this by quickly mobilizing the elimination system, which can cause a sudden urge to urinate or have a bowel movement. Many people have to run to the bathroom when nervous or feel threatened. Some people also have micturition or bowel movement “accidents” when afraid or nervous.
Another part of the stress response causes muscles to tighten to protect the body against injury when dealing with a threat. The muscles in the abdomen can also tighten, which can increase the urge to urinate or have a bowel movement. Tight muscles due to apprehensive behavior can also cause temporary muscle control issues where our voluntary muscle control is interfered with by the involuntary action of the stress response. These types of muscle control issues can affect the muscles that control urination and bowel movements.
Moreover, hyperstimulation can exacerbate urinary and bowel movement control issues. As the degree of hyperstimulation increases, so can the frequency, degree, and persistence of the above changes and resulting symptoms.
The above combination of factors can cause issues with urinary and bowel movement control for some people.
We explain additional reasons for this symptom in the "Symptoms" chapter (Chapter 9) in the Recovery Support area.
How to get rid of the loss of bladder or bowel control anxiety symptom?
Because there are many medical conditions that can cause anxiety-like sensations and symptoms, including this one, we recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning sensations and symptoms be discussed with your doctor. If your doctor concludes that your sensations and symptoms are solely stress related, including anxiety-caused stress, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause for this sensation or symptom. Generally, most doctors can easily determine the difference between stress- and anxiety-caused sensations and symptoms from those caused by medical conditions.
Doctors aren’t infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you may want to seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions concur, you can be assured that stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is the cause of this symptom. Therefore, you can confidently rule out a medical cause.
When this loss of bladder or bowel control symptom is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this anxiety symptom should subside. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
When this loss of bladder or bowel control symptom is caused by hyperstimulation, faithfully practicing the physiological recovery strategies we mention in Chapter 4 in the Recovery Support area, addressing the underlying factors of your anxiety so that your body CAN recover (continuing to trigger stress responses because of unidentified and unresolved underlying factors can prevent recovery), and giving your body ample time to recover will allow your body to recover from hyperstimulation…in time. As your body recovers, it stops interfering with your normal urinary and bowel movement control. Eventually, hyperstimulation-caused sensations and symptoms, including the loss of bladder or bowel control symptom, completely disappear as the body regains its normal health.
Since worrying, fretting, and becoming emotionally upset about stress-caused sensations and symptoms stress the body, these types of behaviors will only cause this symptom to persist. In fact, due to the nature of this symptom, many of those affected by it develop social anxiety because of the fear of having an “accident” in public. This anxiety can cause this symptom to persist.
Nevertheless, faithfully practicing your recovery strategies and remaining patient will bring results…in time. When you do the right work, the body HAS TO recover. When the body recovers, it eliminates all symptoms of hyperstimulation, including a loss of bladder or bowel control.
NOTE: If you are having difficulty containing your anxiousness/distress about this symptom, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety therapists to help you.
You might also want to connect with Liliana Tosic, our recommended Natural Nutritional Therapist for help managing your diet, as eating a healthy diet can also impact digestive motility problems, which can contribute to loss of control.
ALSO NOTE: Anxiety and stress can aggravate medical conditions that cause a loss of bladder or bowel control. If you have a medical condition that is causing this symptom, you may want to talk with your doctor about ways to manage it in consideration of your anxiety and stress. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist can help you eliminate anxiety and stress’s influence on a pre-existing medical condition.
1. "Stress." University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2016.
2. Lai, Henry, et al. “Correlation between Psychological Stress Levels and the Severity of Overactive Bladder Symptoms.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4357155/.
3. Bradley, Catherine S., et al. “Urinary Incontinence, Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Women Veterans.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3381607/.
4. Gorard, DA, et al. Intestinal Transit in Anxiety and Depression. 1996, gut.bmj.com/content/gutjnl/39/4/551.full.pdf.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
For more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; common Anxiety Signs and Symptoms; common Anxiety Attack Symptoms; the symptoms of panic attack disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:
Return to our anxiety symptoms page.
Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated January 1, 2019.