How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom


We all know the discomfort of having to pee when there isn’t a bathroom available. Thankfully, there are things you can do to make “holding it in” a bit less unpleasant. You can try distracting and refocusing your mind, and you can make several physical adjustments to help reduce your feelings of discomfort. You can also, over time, retrain your bladder to better hold in urine for longer periods. However, even with a trained bladder, don’t force yourself to hold it in when you really, really need to go—it can be bad for your bladder and kidney health.[1]

Part 1
Making Physical Adjustments

Making Physical Adjustments on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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You may have to do this several times while holding in urine. Different positions can relieve some of the pressure on your bladder, making it easier to hold in urine. Try the following:[2] Sit upright or lean back while seated. Leaning forward, especially if your pants are snug, will put more pressure on your bladder. Cross your legs when standing. It can help you feel like you’re closing off your urethra. Cross and uncross your legs while sitting down. These changes in position can alleviate pressure on the bladder. Raise your upper body and allow your back to arch, but do not stretch your abdomen, as this may put pressure on your bladder.[3]

Making Physical Adjustments on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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The buildup of gas in your intestines can place additional pressure on your bladder. Alleviating this pressure by passing gas may make you feel more comfortable, and may allow you to hold in urine longer. However, passing gas may also make you temporarily lose bladder control, so don’t try this if you don’t think you can hold your pee in while letting your fart out!

Making Physical Adjustments on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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Make yourself as warm as you can by covering up with blankets, turning up the heater, or cuddling up with your partner. While the exact reasoning isn’t entirely clear, many people seem to have a greater urge to urinate when they’re cold.[4] This phenomenon is called cold diuresis. There’s also a similar condition called immersion diuresis (or cold immersion diuresis) that describes a strong urge to urinate after entering cool or cold water.[5] While cold water is the worst culprit, taking a warm bath or jumping in a hot tub might also trigger immersion diuresis, so skip getting in the water altogether!

Making Physical Adjustments on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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Moving around too much can put pressure on your bladder and make you uncomfortable. Now is not the time to go for a jog or practice your dance moves![6] Stay seated if you’re already sitting. If you find yourself in a comfortable position, stay there until it becomes uncomfortable and you need to reposition yourself. Avoid changing positions too suddenly, or making abrupt or sudden movements. Keep your movements as fluid and graceful as possible when you walk or perform other activities.

Making Physical Adjustments on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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Drink enough to maintain normal hydration, but avoid anything unnecessary. Otherwise, you’ll simply be adding to your bladder overload![7] The average adult bladder can only hold about 12–16  fl oz (350–470 ml) of urine comfortably. Don’t avoid drinking in an effort to prevent your bladder from filling in the first place. Dehydration is a very real and dangerous condition.

Making Physical Adjustments on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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For most people, it’s virtually impossible to let out just a small amount of pee and then stop. Instead of releasing a tiny bit of urine into your underwear, you’ll likely soak your pants. Whenever possible, just find a way to use the bathroom instead of holding it in. Locate an isolated spot outdoors if necessary—even though this may be more of a challenge if you’re a female. Frequently holding in urine for too long can weaken your bladder muscles and increase your risk of urinary tract infections and kidney stones.[8]

Part 2
Refocusing or Distracting Yourself

Refocusing or Distracting Yourself on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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Instead of sitting there thinking about how much you need to pee, focus on your breathing, or the feel of the sun on your face or the ground beneath your feet. Direct your mind toward the sound of the children playing in the next room, or the sight and sound of bees buzzing among the spring flowers.[9] Meditate, repeat a mantra, or try deep breathing exercises. Some people benefit from mindfully focusing on the feeling of squeezing the muscles that surround their urethra—the opening through which urine exits your body. For others, this type of mindfulness might backfire!

Refocusing or Distracting Yourself on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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Do whatever it takes to clear your mind of thoughts of peeing or visiting the bathroom! Simple and even silly distractions may do the trick. Try things like:[10] Counting backwards from 99 repeatedly. Reciting poems and song lyrics you’ve known since you were a kid. Reciting the full names of all the people you know in the room, and making up names for those you don’t know. Giving directions to yourself on getting to your home, to the office, to the grocery store, etc.

Refocusing or Distracting Yourself on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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These aren’t good choices for distractions when you need to go! Unless you’re very skilled at keeping your mind completely focused on something like a dripping faucet, you’ll inevitably find your mind wandering to how much you’d like to empty your bladder.[11] Your friends may think it's hilarious to describe waterfalls, rivers, and flushing toilets when they know you need to go. Try saying, “OK guys, very funny. I get the point,” and then change the subject. If they continue, calmly remove yourself from the area.

Refocusing or Distracting Yourself on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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Laughing might cause you to further contract your muscles and put more pressure on your bladder. Alternatively, laughter may cause you to loosen your muscle tension and release urine. Avoid friends and situations that may cause you to laugh. Watch a heavy drama instead of a riotous comedy on TV! If you frequently release some urine when you laugh, even when your bladder isn’t full, talk to your doctor. You may have a condition that’s sometimes referred to as “giggle incontinence.”[12]

Part 3
Training Your Bladder

Training Your Bladder on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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For 3-7 days, track when, what, and how much you drink, and when and how much you urinate. After several days, you’ll likely start to notice clear patterns to your urination habits.[13] Ideally, you should use a collection cup to record how much you urinate each time. Alternatively, you can just estimate the amount as “a lot,” “average,” and “a little.”

Training Your Bladder on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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After you’ve kept track of when you usually urinate, build a schedule around this data. To start out, try to set up the schedule so that you urinate every 2 to 2.5 hours during the daytime.[14] For example, schedule a “pee break” when you wake up (6:30 am), then when you arrive at work (9:00 am), then right before your lunch break (11:30 am), and so on. Do your best to stick to your schedule. Waiting 5-15 minutes can help stretch your bladder so that, over time, it can hold more urine. If you really need to go, however, just go.[15]

Training Your Bladder on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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If you start your schedule by urinating every 2 hours, move to 2.25 hours between restroom visits the next week, then 2.5 hours the week after that. Your end goal should be to urinate every 3-4 hours.[16] While the average adult urinates every 3-4 hours, this may not be manageable for you. Stretch out your pee breaks slowly, and stop when you seem to have reached your limit.[17]

Training Your Bladder on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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To practice, start urinating, then make yourself stop the stream of urine by contracting your muscles. These are the muscles of your pelvic floor. Once you know what it feels like to contract the pelvic floor muscles, you can do Kegel exercises at other times throughout your day.[18] Try doing Kegel exercises during commercials while watching your favorite show, sitting at your desk, lying down, or filling up your car with gasoline—you can do them at almost any time, really. Try to do these exercises at least 3 times a day and at least 3-4 days a week.

Training Your Bladder on How to Hold in Pee when You Can't Use the Bathroom

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If you continue to need to urinate frequently despite your efforts to retrain your bladder, visit your doctor for a checkup. If you have to pee frequently and urgently, you may have an over-active bladder (OAB), which is a rather vaguely-defined medical condition that should be diagnosed by your doctor.[19] OAB can often be treated by making healthy lifestyle changes—like improving your diet, exercising regularly, losing excess weight, and quitting smoking—and possibly by taking medication.[20] Also speak to your doctor if you have any type of issues with incontinence—that is, releasing urine when you don’t intend to.