Bottom half of woman with colorful shopping bags

Holiday Shopping: Navigating Public Restrooms, Long Lines, and Unpredictable Shopping Breaks

In a survey of adults over the age of 40, more than 43% of women and more than 27% of men said they experienced overactive bladder (OAB) symptoms “sometimes,” while 32.6% of women experienced these troublesome symptoms “often.”

If you are one of the many people who suffer from incontinence or an overactive bladder, you may be dreading holiday shopping this year. Between long lines, grumpy retail workers (and equally cranky holiday shoppers!), and reduced capacity in public restrooms due to Covid-19 social distancing regulations, holiday shopping in brick-and-mortar stores may not seem jolly at all.

As if the holidays aren’t stressful enough for many people, trying to navigate holiday shopping with an overactive bladder can increase anxiety. But it doesn’t have to.

You can take steps to prepare for unexpected bathroom pit stops while also minimizing the times you have to go.

1. Avoid Foods that Irritate Your Overactive Bladder Before You Go Shopping

Begin keeping a bladder diary if you aren’t already. Keeping track of how your bladder reacts to the foods you eat and drink can help you know the foods to avoid before a long holiday shopping trip. You can download a free incontinence diary from the National Association for Continence that can help you track your bladder and bowel habits.

You can also download a nutrition tracking app that makes it easy to log your meals. Keep track of your bathroom trips in the note section to find correlations between frequent bathroom trips and the foods you eat.

As a starting point, some foods that may irritate the bladder include coffee, citrus fruits and juices, carbonated beverages, sugar, and spicy foods.

If you plan to eat while you’re out, avoid these food choices, along with any others that you’ve noticed affect you.

2. Drink Enough Water Leading Up to Your Shopping Trip

It can be tempting to avoid drinking water during your shopping trips. But you don’t want to get dehydrated. It seems counterintuitive, but slacking on your water intake can actually lead to a leaky bladder.

The Mayo Clinic recommends drinking approximately 91 ounces of water a day for women and 125 ounces for men. Another 20 to 30 ounces of water should come from the foods you eat. If you’re planning a day-long holiday shopping excursion, keep up your water intake in the days leading up to your trip. Staying hydrated will help you keep up your energy for shopping and may help prevent bladder leaks.

3. Know the Locations of Public Restrooms

When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go! Know the locations of easily accessible public restrooms with multiple stalls. That way, you can shop with confidence, knowing you can make it to a bathroom in time.

Many shopping malls and outlet centers across the U.S. have downloadable apps that show the location of all their stores, restaurants, and services – including bathrooms.

During Covid, many of the maps you used to find on kiosks in the center of the malls have been deactivated. Make sure your smartphone is charged so you can rely on apps to help you find a restroom quickly.

4. Be Ready to Buy

Most coffee shops and quick-serve restaurants in malls and shopping centers have public restrooms. But they may be available to customers only. Be prepared to purchase a small snack or drink in exchange for using the restroom.

You can also head straight for the restroom; it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission sometimes. If an employee stops you, say you can’t wait, but you’ll be making a purchase as soon as you get out.

5. Understand Ally’s Law

Did you know that several states in the U.S. have passed a law requiring retail locations to grant customers with certain medical conditions access to employee restrooms? Known as Ally’s Law, or the Restroom Access Act, understanding this law can give you the courage to insist on using an employee restroom when you really need to go.

You can also ask your doctor about obtaining a card that explains your condition. If you feel awkward about having the conversation, you can simply show the employee the card to explain your situation.

Even if your state doesn’t have Ally’s Law in effect or if you don’t have the card, it pays to ask nicely to use an employee restroom. You don’t have to go into detail; sometimes all it takes is asking to see a manager or explaining that you can’t wait.

6. Don’t Be Shy; Skip the Line

You’ve done everything right. You’ve avoided foods that irritate your bladder, stayed well-hydrated, and mapped out the fastest path to public restrooms.

But you get to the restroom only to discover a long line. This happens more frequently today with restrooms closing every other stall to allow for social distancing.

There’s no shame in politely asking if you can go to the front of the line. Most people are accommodating. With or without an overactive bladder, nearly everyone has found themselves in the situation (with themselves or with their children) where they just couldn’t wait any longer to use the facilities. If the person in the front says no, chances are someone behind them will say yes.

Similarly, if you’re waiting in a long line to pay, you can politely ask the person behind you to please “save your spot” while you run to the restroom.

7. Consider Speaking to Your Doctor About Medication

Maybe you’ve agreed with your physician that you prefer to beat overactive bladder the natural way, by watching the foods you eat and using pelvic floor exercises to strengthen your muscles. But you may want to turn to medication to help you navigate holiday shopping and this busy time of year.

Speak to your physician if you’d like to find alternatives to navigating public restroom lines and dealing with the uncertainty of OAB while shopping for the holidays.

8. Choose An “Easy Off” Outfit

If you’ve been dealing with OAB for a while, you probably do this without even thinking about it. But it pays to mention you should wear bottoms that slip on and off easily. A dress works perfectly, as do leggings. Obviously, avoid button-fly jeans, overalls, or any other outfit that may be complicated to remove.

9. Pack a Change of Clothing – Just in Case

Ideally, you can avoid an accident during your holiday shopping adventures by following the tips above. But it never hurts to be prepared with a change of clothing. After all, when you’re holiday shopping, sometimes you have to go with the flow.

Holiday shopping with OAB doesn’t have to cause additional stress. With a plan in place, shop confidently and know that most people will be understanding of your struggle.