Police Psychology | To Pee or Not to Pee
Police psychology is sometimes dripping with excitement. Cops have a tendency to know where every bathroom is in their sector because when they have to go, they need to go. But it may be more than that. Today, I’m going to write to you about bladder control. Now, before you tell me to piss off, give me a chance to explain. Urine for a great article, trust me. Okay, okay, enough with the bladder puns. Sometimes I just can’t control myself and they slip out.
The Saturday Night Tinkle
One of the first things you want to show any guest to your house or office is the location of the bathroom. In fact, I once read an article by an anthropologist named Dr. Horace Miner entitled, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” This article describes a group of people who have interesting values and rituals. He explores a special ritualistic shrine that is found in every one of these people’s houses, and adds, “While each family has at least one such shrine, the rituals associated with it are not family ceremonies but are private and secret. The rites are normally only discussed with children, and then only during the period when they are being initiated into these mysteries.” The article continues on in this manner, but to the astute reader, the article becomes one very amusing mockery. Dr. Miner was not describing an ancient civilization, but the American people, and indeed Nacirema is “American” spelled backwards. The ritual shrines he goes to such lengths to discuss are our common bathrooms. It is a favorite in anthropology first classes. And though it may seem funny or amusing to describe what we do in the bathroom as “rituals”, if you think about it, we actually do tend to treat the bathroom with a certain reverence.
The human bladder is a very unpredictable thing. Why is it a bladder that can make it through the night can’t make it two hours on the job? Some days I have to go to the bathroom every hour. Other days I can go the whole workday without it. Everyone believes we should drink tons of water, and the amount you drink certainly contributes to the unpredictable nature of your bladder. But this is not the full story. So what is it that makes the bathroom such an integral part of our lives? Is it simply that the unpredictable nature of our bladders makes this a necessary reality? Your bladder is actually more attuned with anxiety and even depression than you know.
When the Mind-Body Connection Trickles Out
“Stress incontinence” is the medical term for not holding your urine because of stress. Indeed, those involved in police psychology know how cops often find themselves dealing with uncontrollable bladder issues due to police stress. But stress is not only emotional stress, but physical stress like sitting a certain way, or carrying too much weight (thus why pregnant women have more pee-pee problems during pregnancy). In fact, slight leakage is more likely to hit women than men throughout life. Bet you didn’t know that, did you?! Sex can also be a stress on the body, and low and behold, can also lead to a bathroom break. Let’s talk alcohol, caffeine and even some medications can also be a stress on your body and (you guessed it) can make you have to run to little boys’ or girls’ room. Stress is cumulative, meaning it builds on top of each other. So, you have a little physical stress and a teaspoon of emotional stress and VOILA! (I gotta go right now, I will be right back).
Anxiety can trigger your sympathetic nervous system, which stimulates “fight or flight” responses. Your heart starts pounding, your breathing rate increases, your muscles tense—all are typical physiological responses to anxiety. In general, your body can control all these heightened reactions and still maintain control over other bodily functions. But when anxiety or stress or any tension reaches a certain critical point, your body will move all its energy to areas it thinks is most important, like increasing your blood flow or heart rate. When it does this, it removes some of the control that had been used for your bladder. This can make you feel like you constantly need to use the bathroom. Such a sensation can increase when you experience moments of panic, stress, or anxiety, even if it is not so acute.
Similarly with depression the reduced state can cause physical and physiological changes in your body, ranging from insomnia, to anorexia, to loss of bladder control. When you are depressed you feel out of control, and in truth, you are. Well, that can go for more than just above your neck. You may get a little out of control below the waste. These kinds of problems only increase the helpless-hopeless feelings and the cycle of depression continues.
So how can be practice better bladder control?
- Start with the Basics. What are you eating? What are you drinking? Do you think your body is putting undue hardship on daily functioning such as weight, too pressure, etc. If you are drinking fourteen cups of coffee a day, you might cut back a little. Not stop, but cut back. If you drink too much diet Coke or Pepsi, maybe you body is trying to tell you something with runs to the can. Are you hitting the bottle or can and taking in a little too much alcohol? Don’t try to stick a finger in the dam Dutch boy – stop! You got to be honest with yourself and cut it out before you are sloshing around in semi-wet underwear You young folks, springing a little leak when you laugh may be foretelling problems later on. Happy hours that end up smelling like a floor in a bad nursing home, should not be ignored. Look at what you are putting yourself through first and try to cut back. Sometimes stress incontinence is just a warning sign.
- Relaxation techniques. If one of the leading causes for loss of bladder control is physiological changes due to stress or anxiety, then one of the main ways you can prevent this is through the use of relaxation techniques. Let me give you my favorite technique I learned when being classically trained in singing. It is called a square breath. First take diaphragmtic breaths. Once you get that down, breath in for a count of three, hold it for a count of three, breath out for a count of three and hold that for a count of three. That’s twelve seconds, or five breaths a minute. The average is 14-16. It will slow you down if done 15 minutes a night and may make your pee-pee problems to go away. (As an aside, you can increase the count to four, five, six, etc. You don’t need to breath as much as you do. When singing this is essential. Ever wonder why some people can hold a note seemingly forever?) I use this technique in my police psychology sessions, and it’s really helped a lot of my clients deal with their police stress. Redistribute the energy so that you don’t reach that critical point where you lose all control over your bladder. If you are stressed, use self-talk to tell yourself the right phrases, that everything is not hopeless, and that you can overcome this moment of tension and find happiness and calmness Slow the pace of life. Don’t let other people stress you out—ignore what they say and let you be in control of you.
- Get To Your Physician. If you have a regular physician, let him or her know. Don’t say you want it fixed right now. Tell him you want to try thing first, but let him know. It helps not to get 1000 tests that will add to your stress when you’re just starting out and if your physician is blind-sided with this, they may go a little overboard trying to help. A little drippy is normal sometimes and lifestyle changes are enough. Sometimes bladder problems are a very serious matter and shouldn’t be joked about. But, let the person that takes care of you know. If you don’t have that kind of relationship with your physician, ask around and find someone that does have that kind of relationship with his patients. There could be medications that help or even the physician may have some lifestyle changes for you to try.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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