Are Squat Toilets Better for Your Health?

We Americans are pretty particular about our pooping habits. Camping trips aside, there’s generally only one acceptable way to go: sitting down. U.S. tourists returning from international trips share horror stories of bathroom conditions in other parts of the world. “It was a hole in the ground!” Sitting to poop is just more civilized than squatting, we tell ourselves. It can’t be sanitary to hover over a hole.

But we are mistaken. Billions of people around the world squat at bathroom time. Squat toilets are the norm in Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. And for a while now, the pro-squat squad has been trying to get America on board. Proponents of squatting say seated pooping is not only harder—it’s hazardous to your health.

Our bodies certainly aren’t designed for the toilets we use. The alimentary canal ends with the rectum, where waste is stored, and the anus, where it leaves the body. The tube between them is slightly kinked, which is what allows you to hold it. Standing up pinches off the passageway. To a lesser extent, sitting does the same. This is great when there’s no rest stop in sight, but when it’s time to go, you want the channels clear. The squatting position straightens out the tube, allowing your poop to show itself out. There’s less straining, which we can all agree is a good thing.

Hemorrhoids are a pretty big problem in this country. By age 50, approximately half of Americans have had them. And the number one cause (no pun intended)? Straining during bowel movements. 

But we don’t have to live this way. A niche industry of squat enablers has sprung up in the U.S. It’s dangerous to sit on your toilet, say the manufacturers, who offer footstools, and adapters to squat-ify Western toilets. Their websites blame our seated poopstyle for colon cancer, heart attacks, sexual dysfunction, heartburn, and appendicitis. You can prevent all these problems, they say, if you just buy what they’re selling.

David Ling, inventor of the Sandun-Evaco toilet converter, promises users “a lifetime of health benefits (better skin, flatter abdomen, reduced toxicity, better mental clarity and reduced risk of disease as a result of a cleaner and healthier colon).” The makers of the Squatty Potty—a footstool with a toilet-shaped cutout—claim their product can ease constipation, prevent colon disease, and improve pelvic floor issues. The $25 to $80 Squatty Potty has been endorsed by Howard Stern, and has inspired the most glittery train wreck of a commercial we’ve ever seen.

Is there any truth to these claims? Maybe. Some of them. There’s definitely no evidence that you can get clearer skin or better abs from a toilet converter, and nobody’s testing the effects of squatting on vague concepts like “mental clarity” and “toxicity.” A few studies have shown that squatting does make pooping easier and faster and may reduce the risk of hemorrhoids. The rest of it remains to be seen.

8 Tips for Overcoming Social Anxiety Disorder

iStock.com/fizkes
iStock.com/fizkes

If the thought of having to attend a networking event, office holiday party, or family reunion with your uppity out-of-state cousins fills you with dread, then you might have social anxiety disorder. Also known as social phobia, the pervasive fear of being judged by one’s peers affects an estimated 15 million Americans. If you think you might be one of them, a physician can recommend the best course of treatment for you, but there are a few tactics you can try in the meantime. Here are some tips for coping with social anxiety disorder.

1. Ease into social situations.

Everything gets easier with practice, and the same concept applies to socializing. Avoiding parties and large gatherings may provide temporary relief of social phobia, but it isn't a long-term fix. To get started on your road to overcoming anxiety, the Mayo Clinic outlines a few steps that can be found in most cognitive behavioral therapy regimens. This form of psychotherapy challenges people's negative thoughts about social situations to help alleviate anxiety. One such step is to set small, manageable goals for yourself, like giving a stranger a compliment or asking an employee in a store for help finding something. Keep doing little tasks like these until you start to build confidence. Once you’ve mastered these social skills, you can more on to more challenging scenarios.

2. Prepare talking points to combat social anxiety disorder before an event.

We’re not saying you should memorize your lines, but it will ease some of the tension if you come to a party or networking event with a few conversation starters in mind. If possible, do some snooping to find out what some of the other guests are into, or check the news for interesting ice breakers. Just take it from author, life coach, and self-proclaimed “party-impaired individual” Martha Beck: “When you find yourself standing at the bar or reaching a dead end in a conversation, news of a sighting of Bessie, the Lake Erie monster, or some other tidbit that caught your attention will make it that much easier to mingle.”

3. Lay off the caffeine.

You may think that a cup of joe will perk you up and make it easier to conquer your fears, but it may end up making your social phobia worse. Coffee, chocolate, and soda are best avoided because stimulants such as these can elevate your levels of anxiety.

4. Get plenty of sleep.

In a similar vein, make sure you get plenty of sleep before your next big event. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends that you get at least eight hours of sleep each night. If you’re sleep-deprived, you may notice that it’s harder to immerse yourself in social situations.

5. Identify your negative thinking patterns.

Think back to the last time you felt anxious. What kinds of thoughts were you having in that moment? Did any of them make you feel worse? If so, you might be getting swept up in negative self-talk, which can fuel social phobia and make you feel more anxious. Identifying these thoughts when they pop up is the first step to confronting and changing them, according to the Social Anxiety Institute.

6. Imagine what would happen if your worst fears came true.

It may seem counterproductive, but asking yourself “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” is a good way to confront your “inner critic,” according to author and clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen. Avoid words like “always,” “never, “everybody,” and “nobody”—they’re vague and tend to overstate the risks you face. Instead, think about your specific fears of any given situation, and you will probably realize that “failure”—whether it’s tripping on stage or sounding awkward—isn’t as bad as it seems. The more you rationalize it, the more “‘Everyone will think I’m a freak’ turns into ‘The five or six people I talk to at the party might notice my hands shaking and think something is wrong with me,’” Hendriksen writes in her book How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. If you do this enough, social situations won’t seem quite as scary.

7. Focus on someone else.

When you’re talking to someone, really make a concerted effort to listen to what they’re saying. This will help shift your focus away from your own insecurities. “The trick is to focus on anything except yourself, and that magically frees up a lot of bandwidth,” Hendriksen tells Vox. “When we’re able to do this, we come across as much more authentic and open and the anxiety disappears.”

8. Be proud that you put yourself out there.

Instead of scrutinizing every little thing you said or did after a social event, give yourself credit for simply doing something you find challenging—and living to tell the tale. Establishing a system of “self-reward” will help decrease your anxiety in the future, according to Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City. “Who deserves more congratulation than you for trying hard to confront what is difficult?” Leahy writes in Psychology Today. “Just trying, just going, just staying in, and just tolerating the discomfort are reasons for reward. Each time you face your fear, you win and your fear loses.”

New Memory Foam Neck Pillow Takes the Pain Out of Travel

iStock.com/izusek
iStock.com/izusek

Travel can be a pain in the neck—quite literally. Kinks and cramps don’t have to be part of the package, though. Edge Signature, whose lineup of practical travel products includes a digital luggage scale and an anti-theft backpack, has designed a memory foam pillow that adapts to the contours of your head and neck.

The True Adaptive pillow has been given an ergonomic M-shape, with the two bumps in the back providing some extra support for your neck. The problem with many travel pillows is that they don’t hold your neck steady when you start to doze off. “The deeper we fall into unconsciousness or our sleep state, the more relaxed our muscles will be,” Edge Signature writes in its Kickstarter campaign for the True Adaptive pillow. “This makes it practically impossible for us to get a good rest or sleep while sitting upright as our neck muscle will have to keep working to support our neck.”

That’s where the pillow’s high-density memory foam comes in. It will stay in place even as you move around, and an adjustable string in the front makes it fit as loose or as snug as you’d like. There’s even a smartphone pocket on the side, so you won’t have to worry about finding your phone in a dimly lit aircraft cabin.

When you’re done using the pillow, fold it up and place it back into its carrying pouch, which can be clipped onto your suitcase or backpack. After returning from a long trip, you can remove the cover and throw it in the washing machine to get it ready for your next big adventure. The zipper is hidden, though, with the advantage being that you won’t have any plastic bits poking you in the face while you’re trying to nap.

The pillow’s usefulness isn’t limited to travel, either. Wear it at your office desk, or while studying or reading for extended periods of time. Backers who pledge $39 or more before January 9, 2019 will get the True Adaptive pillow and carrying pouch at a 35 percent discount. U.S. shipping is free.

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