You know that terrible "gotta go" feeling that seems to get stronger and stronger the closer you get to your front door? You're fumbling for your keys, ready to toss your bag on the floor and make run for the bathroom. It's not all in your head—it's a real thing called latchkey incontinence. (Psst... These are The Surprising Pelvic Perks of Peeing In the Shower.)
"The mere glance of an object that we relate to an action can jumpstart the brain's process to a more urgent need to experience it—all subconsciously," explains psychotherapist Ginnie Love, Ph.D.
From an early age, we're taught to associate the bathroom with peeing. So the closer we get to one, that programming, located deep in the rivers of the subconscious mind, activates the thought and the body acts physiologically by doing what nature does, Love explains.
"It's like Pavlov's experiment," says Dr. May M. Wakamatsu, a urogynecologist and director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. In the well-known scientific experiment, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov rang a bell when giving his dogs food. After a while, he tried ringing the bell on its own and found that the dog salivated even when the food was not present.
It's the same type of conditioned response stimulus for your bladder, explains Wakamatsu. You get in the habit of emptying your bladder as soon as you get in the door, so you suddenly feel like you have to pee—even when you don't. (Does your pee look or smell funny? Decode the 6 Things Your Pee Is Trying To Tell You.)
Over time, if you keep giving into your bladder instead of letting your brain take control, you could actually start to leak—or worse—pee on the front step. (Hey, it happens!)
Luckily, there are a few things you can do so that your latchkey incontinence doesn't get to that point. "Going through a different door of your house can help to decrease the urge to pee, but if that's not an option, you need to resist the urge to empty your bladder when you get in the house," says Wakamatsu.
Distraction techniques can also help you ignore your pounding bladder. Start cooking dinner right away when you get home or open the mail to take your mind off the feeling, suggests Wakamatsu. It can be a slow process to become unconditioned, so start by seeing if you can wait until five minutes after you get home, then 10 minutes, and gradually increase the time.
Another method she suggests is deliberately emptying your bladder before you leave for home. Then, you'll know that your brain is just sending false signals if you still feel like you have to go when you arrive home, because it takes about three to four hours for the bladder to fill up. Just like pushing through a hard workout, sometimes it's just about mind over matter.