People are escaping to public bathrooms (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
‘Many times at university, I’d leave my desk to go to the bathroom, not because I needed to actually go to the bathroom, but I just felt like I mentally needed that space away,’ Kate Cronin, 21, recalls about escaping to the loo during stressful moments.
For some the humble bathroom can be more than just another room in the house, at work or on campus. Instead, it’s an underrated (and unquestioned) tranquil space to retreat to during difficult times.
Kate, a freelance social media manager who studied fashion marketing at Nottingham Trent, tells Metro.co.uk how saying you’re going to the bathroom, rather than removing yourself from a situation to have a cry, is more accepted in society. Kate realised this on one particular day while in a seminar.
‘I was just having the worst day. I felt very overwhelmed with graduate job interviews and the pressure of my dissertation. The whole seminar was just to talk about our work and that was not where my head was at, so I remember leaving to go to the bathroom as an escape.
‘Just leaving the room and standing in the corridor felt wrong and too public, the bathroom felt like I had time to myself to breathe and compose myself, away from everything else.
Kate says bathroom breaks are beneficial and more socially accepted (Picture: Kate Cronin)
‘Having somewhere you can break off to for a minute or so is so beneficial and it’s socially accepted to say “just nipping to the toilet” rather than saying “I’m about to have a breakdown give me a minute”.
‘But even when you don’t feel extremely overwhelmed, a bathroom break just gives you space to be alone, to refresh and then come back to your work environment with a fresh mind.’
Data from the social platform Azar – which aims to help Gen Z in particular find connections in order to tackle loneliness – has revealed that 61% of students find escaping to the bathroom to be a comforting safe space to breathe and gather their thoughts.
They commissioned a bathroom-themed art mural at the University of Birmingham by Tess Smith-Roberts where students can scan a QR code and win tickets to a free gig in a bid to connect lonely students.
How common is loneliness at university?
70% of university students experience loneliness at least once a week at university according to Azar’s survey which was commissioned by Azar and conducted by Census Wide interviewing 1,000 Gen Z university students.
Kate has since moved back home to the Wirral after graduating last year, where she lives with her parents and their 14-year-old labrador. She still uses the bathroom for a calm space, mostly when she’s out and about.
‘Especially at work, if I’m working in a coffee shop or just out and about, or even out at restaurants with friends. Sometimes you just need that break away so I still have bathroom breaks since leaving university,’ she says.
Samuel Oniru, a 22-year-old artist and music production student who recently graduated at Hertfordshire University, also uses the bathroom as a calm space.
After growing up in Nigeria, he now lives in Dagenham, east London, with his mum and three siblings while his dad still resides in Nigeria. He moved back to his family home after graduating uni in September, where he also used the bathroom as a place to escape from pressure.
‘I mostly use the toilet in places I am familiar with, such as my house or my accommodation when I was in uni,’ he says.
‘One time I felt like my house was so busy I went into the bathroom and just stayed there on my phone texting for a couple hours. I saw this as a way I could be uninterrupted and at peace.
Samuel lives with his family and says alone time in the bathroom is a ‘personal haven’ during stressful times (Picture: Samuel Oniru)
‘The bathroom feels like my personal haven, a quiet space where I can take a moment for myself. Whether it’s a quick breather or a longer pause, this sanctuary lets me gather my thoughts and find a sense of calm amid the hustle of daily life.’
But what do people actually do in the cubicles when they need a place to escape? Samuel says: ‘For me it’s definitely a mixture of using the loo and scrolling on social media and then on other occasions listening to music.’
While Kate shares: ‘I often run the taps on my wrists, which is something that really calms me down. Or will splash my face if I’m not wearing makeup. Or sometimes just sit on the closed lid of the toilet and just breathe to calm myself down, having privacy in a stall is so beneficial.’
The mural is encouraging students to make connections. (Picture: Andy Hughes)
Counsellor Georgina Sturmer, a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, has explained why so many of us – not just students – escape to the bathroom in stressful situations.
‘We all need coping strategies when life becomes overwhelming and stressful,’ she says.
‘When we feel as if we are physically or emotionally under threat, it often triggers what’s known as the “fight, flight or freeze response”. So if you find yourself desperately looking around for a way to disappear and collect your emotions, it’s likely that something has triggered your ‘flight’ response.
‘In many circumstances, we can’t simply run for hills in the way that our ancestors might have done. But it’s almost always socially acceptable to take ourselves away for a bathroom break. This gives us the quiet space that we need to cope with the physical and emotional sensations that are making us feel threatened.
‘And once we’re feeling safe and secure, we are able to do the things that will calm us down. To think clearly, to breathe, to soothe ourselves. To splash cold water on our face and check our physical appearance in the mirror before we return to the fray.’
The next time you find yourself struggling to calm down in a bathroom, Georgina suggests using breathing exercises for when you’re feeling particularly agitated.
‘I’m a big advocate of the “five finger breathing” exercise as a way to stay quietly calm without drawing attention to what you’re doing,’ she explains.
‘Hold your hands out in front of you, and trace the index finger of one hand up and down each finger of the other hand. Breathe in as you trace upwards and breathe out as you trace downwards.’
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Sometimes you just need that break away.