In Summary

  • Toilet anxiety affects up to 35 per cent of the population
  • A scale has been developed to assess toilet anxiety
  • Also known as shy bladder and shy bowel

If the thought of using a public toilet makes you feel a little uneasy, you’re not alone. Swinburne researchers have developed a scale aimed to assess the anxiety people commonly experience when needing to use a public restroom.

Recently published in the journal of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, the study looks at both Paruresis, anxiety associated with urinating in public, also known as shy bladder and Parcopresis, anxiety related to having a bowel motion, also known as shy bowel.

The study involving 334 adults reveals that shy bladder and shy bowel symptoms were both associated with increased stress, anxiety and depression.

Swinburne researchers Dr Simon Knowles and Dr Jason Skues say individuals with social anxiety were the most likely to report problems with shy bladder and bowel scores.

“Those who experience toilet anxiety will frequently worry about using a public toilet due to fears that others may hear or see them,” says Dr Knowles, clinical psychologist and specialist in psychological aspects of gastrointestinal conditions

“This fear can often lead to individuals avoiding public toilets and in extreme cases lead to gastrointestinal problems.”

Despite it being quite common, little is known about this fear and assessing it has been problematic until now.

“Although the prevalence of toilet anxiety is not clear, it is suggested to be around six to 35 per cent of the population may be affected to some degree,” says Dr Knowles.

“For some of my patients, toilet anxiety is a major problem in their life and it can have a devastating impact on their ability to engage in many common activities we take for granted, such as shopping and going out for dinner.”

Based on the results of the study, Dr Knowles says that more research can be undertaken to look at these conditions.

“Ultimately, we aim to develop a treatment program to reduce shy bladder and shy bowel symptoms.”

For those interested in knowing more about toilet anxiety and participate in research in this area, check out