How to stop twirling your hair
Is Hair Twirling Bad? Potential Side Effects and What It May Mean
Coiling your hair around your finger and pulling it in a circle — also known as hair twirling — is a fairly common habit.
Twirling your hair is part of a group of behaviors called “fidgets.” Children, especially, may twirl their hair as a way of self-soothing to calm anxiety, wind down before bedtime, or simply deal with boredom.
The habit of twirling your hair can simply be a nervous habit, but there are times that it can be a sign of an underlying health condition.
Twirling your hair can also hurt your hair, resulting in knots, split ends, and hair breakage.
Hair twirling can have some side effects. These may include:
- hair breakage and weak strands
- tangled and knotted hair
- bald patches and hair loss
- split ends
Hair twirling can escalate from a nervous habit or a childhood distraction to a body-focused repetitive behavior.
There’s also a belief that hair twirling habits can lead to trichotillomania. This is a mental health condition that causes an overwhelming urge to pull out your own hair.
If you’re an adult with a hair twirling habit, it’s possible that it simply carried over from childhood. It could also be a symptom of another condition.
Body-focused repetitive behavior
Maybe you started your hair twirling habit when you were a small child and just never stopped.
There’s some research to suggest that there’s a link between this type of behavior and impatience, boredom, frustration, and dissatisfaction.
Hair twirling can alleviate boredom and also help you wind down when you’re feeling tired.
If you tend to only twirl your hair when you’re fighting to stay awake during a meeting, or when you’re streaming your favorite show in your PJs, it could be that you’ve always had the habit.
And unless your hair is becoming damaged or falling out, there’s no need to be concerned.
Symptom of anxiety
Your hair twirling might have started in childhood or adolescence and developed into something you do when you’re anxious.
If you twirl your hair when you feel nervous or when you’re coping with intrusive, anxious thoughts, that habit might be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.
Sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Hair twirling can be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
If you have other symptoms of OCD, your hair twirling habit might be a part of your condition. Other symptoms of OCD include:
- upsetting thoughts or impulses that repeatedly occur
- repetitive acts or “rituals” that temporarily relieve the stress and anxiety
- symptoms that last more than an hour per day and interfere with daily life
But hair twirling by itself isn’t enough to suggest a diagnosis of OCD.
Hair twirling in children may start as a coping mechanism for stress or fatigue during the toddler years.
Since it’s hard to express complicated emotions or control your surroundings when you’re a child, sometimes the body takes over and creates a physical coping mechanism instead.
Is hair twirling a symptom of autism?
Hair twirling is a form of stimming, or self-stimulation. Other examples of stimming include:
- biting your nails
- drumming your fingers
- jiggling your foot
Stimming isn’t always related to autism, but some stimming behaviors can be related to a diagnosis of autism. Repetitive behaviors linked to autism often include:
- flapping hands or flicking or snapping fingers
- bouncing, jumping, or twirling
- pacing or walking on tiptoes
In cases where a child has been diagnosed with autism, hair twirling can become a destructive behavior that needs to be addressed.
But hair twirling by itself isn’t enough to suggest that your child needs to be evaluated for autism. Read about autism symptoms in young children here.
If hair twirling is affecting your child’s health, there are some methods you can use to interrupt the behavior.
Mittens at bedtime
Putting child-safe mittens on at bedtime can help toddlers to stop twirling their hair as a way of self-soothing before bedtime.
If your child’s hair has been damaged by hair twirling, you may want to address the problem by simply giving them a short haircut.
Without hair to twirl, your child may have a rough time self-soothing for a couple of days. But by the time the hair grows back, the habit should be gone.
A fidget device can provide the distraction and relief that your child looks for, without damaging their hair.
There are devices available made of imitation hair that your child can twirl as they relax during the evening.
If you want to stop twirling your hair, the treatment you choose will depend on the reason that you do it.
Here are some ways to stop twirling your hair as an adult:
- Busy your hands with something constructive, such as knitting or crocheting.
- Brush your hair instead of twirling it.
- Take good care of your hair to decrease the desire to pull it.
- Learn alternative stress-relief techniques, such as mindfulness or meditation.
- Speak to a psychologist to find out if cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might help.
- Create small goals (such as not twirling your hair for 2 hours at a time) and reward yourself for meeting them.
- Sleep wearing a baseball cap, beanie, or hoodie to avoid twirling while you sleep.
- Consider anti-anxiety medication.
- Reduce your caffeine and sugar intake.
If you’re noticing that hair twirling is having a negative impact on your or your child’s health, you should seek advice from a doctor.
If you or your child are experiencing hair loss from this habit, you should seek assistance. A general doctor may be able to refer you to a mental health professional if you or your child need one.
People twirl their hair for lots of different reasons.
Sometimes, the habit develops in childhood and simply doesn’t go away. Other times, twirling your hair can be a symptom of an underlying health condition.
A doctor can offer treatment options if twirling your hair is affecting your or your child’s daily life.
Hair Twirling Linked To Anxiety, Stress: How To Stop
Photographed by Megan Madden.
From nail biting to skin picking, a handful of physical factors can be linked to stress and anxiety but one of the lesser known indicators is hair twirling. You might suddenly notice yourself wrapping your hair around your fingers while working at your laptop or when unwinding in front of Netflix. But when does it stop being a harmless habit?
What is hair twirling?
Hair twirling is wrapping your hair around your finger in a circle, says hair loss expert Simone Thomas. "We mainly see it in children," Simone adds, "but adults are known to do this, too." According to trichologist Stephanie Sey, hair twirling is a fairly common habit. "Twirling can be done for a number of reasons, from simple boredom to relieving stress or anxiety," she says. However, Stephanie adds that hair twirling on its own is not a sign of anxiety or nervous behaviour.
AdvertisementHow does hair twirling differ from trichotillomania aka hair pulling?
"Trichotillomania is an impulse-control hair pulling disorder," says Simone. "Repeatedly pulling hair on the head will result in bald patches and hair loss." While it is not known what causes trichotillomania, there are several theories. "Some experts think hair pulling is a type of addiction whereby the more you pull your hair out, the more you want to keep doing it," says Simone. "Trichotillomania may also be a coping mechanism for a mental health problem such as relieving stress or anxiety."
Stephanie agrees that hair twirling is a completely different condition from trichotillomania, which sees individuals pull hair out from their scalp, lashes, brows and other areas, but says that the two can coexist. "Some people may twirl and play with their hair before selecting a hair to pull out," says Stephanie.How is hair twirling linked to stress and anxiety?
"Hair twirling could be exacerbated depending on the cause," says Stephanie. This is especially significant during a global pandemic in which cases of hair loss are rising. "If a person twirls because they are anxious, then this current period of uncertainty may lead to higher levels of twirling," Stephanie adds.
Hair twirling is linked to my anxiety. I had to cut off some of my hair completely because it was unsalvageable.
For graphic designer Rose, anxiety is a hair twirling trigger. "I've been twirling my hair since I was around 7 or 8 and I was actually yelled at for it," she tells R29. "My family thought that it was just a child's habit but now I'm 20, I can tell you it's 100% linked to anxiety." Rose has ADHD and bipolar disorder, which can come with sensory issues. "I'm very fond of textures and touch as it's one sensory thing I fall back on the most." It has exacerbated the issue, though. "Hair twirling is like my comfort blanket. I could keep twirling until my hair gets matted or falls off in a ball." Rose has even lost some hair and has had to cut out sections after hair twirling has rendered her ends unsalvageable.
For Sarah, an author and illustrator, hair twirling is linked to her OCD. "I've had OCD, anxiety and social phobia since I was about 6 — it runs in the family — and a house move exacerbated all of those symptoms. When I first twirled my hair, it was linked more directly to my OCD and I had to do it a set number of times. As I got older, it stopped being a compulsion and just started being a habit."
I've tried in vain to stop twirling my hair and let it grow to match the rest of my hair but the habit is so ingrained that it never lasts long.
Sarah notes that the hair twirling increases when she is stressed or anxious; it's an unconscious habit. "I just start doing it," she tells R29. "I favour twisting on the left side of my head with the hair nearest to the nape of my neck. I've always had this short bunch of hair in one spot because twisting it shears off the ends and sometimes creates knots that I have to cut out. I've tried in vain to stop and let it grow to match the rest of my hair but the habit is so ingrained that it never lasts long." Getting a haircut is anxiety-inducing for Sarah. "I can't pretend it's baby hairs or flyaways — it's too thick a section. One stylist asked if something had happened and I said it was an accident. The truth feels like unnecessary information."
For Whitney, hair twirling is anxiety-related, too. "It's a habit I do every day," she told R29 on Twitter. While Whitney hasn't noticed any side effects on the hair, she believes the twirling is linked to other nervous behaviour. "Something else I do from nerves is bite on the inside of my cheek. I've also found that I like touching and twirling my hair because it's soft, so if I have something else soft to touch, it's basically like the same thing."
AdvertisementCan hair twirling damage your hair and scalp?
Depending on the level of twirling, it can potentially cause damage to the hair shaft, says Stephanie. "Twisting and twirling the hair can damage the cuticle layer, leading to breakage and split ends. It can also lead to knots, tangles and matting." Stephanie continues that if the hair is twirled all the way to the scalp very tightly, it can cause bald patches from repeated pulling. "This is actually a type of traction alopecia," she says.
Hair twirling doesn't just damage the hair and scalp, though, as Sarah reports nail changes, too. "When I twist my hair, it goes beneath my nails." She jokes: "While I can make amazing ringlets, this pushes at the nail bed. As a result, I have weird-looking nail beds on my 'twisting fingers', which can actually hurt." According to the American Academy of Dermatology, picking or pushing back the cuticles on your thumb nails may result in grooves or ridges. While it isn't dangerous, if you suspect this may be the case due to hair twirling, it's best to visit your GP or a dermatologist for advice.How to stop hair twirling
Simone mentions that for adults, it can be harder to stop the habit, especially if you have been doing it your whole life. She recommends trying to find out the underlying issue, whether it is stress or anxiety. From there, you could try a number of techniques, starting with therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), according to both Simone and Stephanie. Head to your GP to discuss options or visit Mind or the NHS website to locate a CBT therapist in the UK.
Simone suggests that clients dealing with stress and anxiety try practising mindfulness, including meditation and exercise. Distraction techniques are also helpful for hair twirling, says Stephanie. "In general, look at ways to busy the hands. I'd suggest buying a fidget bracelet which you can play with instead of your hair, for example." Simone adds: "Plaiting your hair or putting a hat on will remove you from being able to twirl your hair but in an ideal world you want to treat the trigger and not mask over it with a band aid."
For Rose, healthy distractions are helpful. "My anxiety is reduced greatly when I'm not home," she continues. "I think my anxiety stems a lot from my family, so the more I'm home, I have to find distractions or alternatives. I love twirling a string or playing an instrument to keep me from twirling my hair and I highly recommend finding hobbies that will ease your anxiety."
Sarah has also successfully gone without consistently twirling her hair when distracted by other things. "Usually it will be involvement in projects I like, as I'm an author and illustrator, but that's no guarantee," she adds. "I have long hair, so if I put my hair up and pin the stray hairs off my neck, it prevents me from doing it. I also trained my boyfriend to sort of call me out if he sees me twisting, but even he knows I'm too far gone! I've sort of accepted I’ll probably be doing this for the rest of my life."
You might find support groups or online forums helpful, too. In particular, Trichotillomania Support has some good resources on hair twirling, including first person stories. Making an appointment with your GP or a qualified trichologist may also be beneficial to discuss different avenues and ways of managing hair twirling.
How to get rid of "nervous habits". Psychologist about why we pull our hair and bite our nails when we are very worried
In the Healthy Lifestyle column together with MTS, we tell you how to change your body and thoughts. Today, psychologist Katerina Karpovich explains what “nervous habits” are and whether it is necessary to fight them.
Katerina Karpovich, psychologist, head of the ZenFish Center for Emotional Intelligence,
host of the educational channel "Psychology What?".
HOW DO WE HAVE NERVOUS HABITS?
- Let's start with the fact that there is no such concept in professional terminology. There is a term "compulsive (obsessive) actions": they can be anything from clicking a pen to pulling out one's hair. And they are aimed at reducing emotional discomfort, which can also be different.
A person may experience some kind of itching - for example, constantly adjusting things so that they lie neatly. And if you ask him why he does this, then you will not get a clear answer.
But there is also a certain reason - for example, fear or excitement before an important event. Such a person will bite his nails, shake his leg, but at the same time he will perfectly understand why this happens.
The same twisting of the hair can be a completely unconscious action. We do this to put our anxiety somewhere and redirect energy.
There are also peculiar “rituals of luck”: for example, before an important competition, a person takes the lucky paw of a rabbit, knocks on the table seven times and turns around. He is initially influenced by a negative forecast: “If I don’t check the door seven times, I will definitely be robbed.”
As you can see, the mechanism of habit formation is as follows: discomfort or anxiety appears, the person does not know how to deal with it, so a ritual is created that gives the illusion of relief. Why an illusion? Because for a while it becomes easier for him, but in reality these actions do not affect success in any way, and, moreover, a person does not learn to cope with stress.
DO MANY HAVE THESE HABITS?
- Compulsive actions may not be visible to us. We only pay attention to the obvious ones, like clicking a pen, that everyone can see, but in fact, people sometimes perform compulsive actions in their minds: they can repeat something to themselves or imagine pink unicorns to compensate for the negative with positive.
We all try to avoid discomfort. It's an evolutionary tendency that's how we survived. Now we can admire the tiger, but in ancient times it was like this: I saw a tiger - the “fight or flight” reaction worked. Now there are many times less threats to survival, so it makes sense to learn to enjoy life again, instead of avoiding any discomfort.
And another important point: a nervous habit rarely lives alone. All symptoms love a couple, or even a trinity: during times of stress, a person can wind his hair around his finger, and seize everything sweet, and shout at someone.
CAN THIS GO TO SOMETHING SERIOUS?
- As stress builds up, unless the person learns to deal with it differently, compulsive behaviors can develop into obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The two key features of OCD are obsessions (obsessive thoughts) and compulsions (compulsive actions) that we're talking about. There are clinical criteria by which you can understand that the habit has turned into OCD. And most importantly, the compulsive action takes you hour or more per day .
But habits are not the only factor in the development of OCD, it can be a genetic or family predisposition. In some people, parents instill perfectionism from childhood, which can become fertile ground for the development of OCD. A symptom may be a craving to align things.
HOW CAN I KNOW WHAT IT'S HARMING ME?
- It's simple: you either already notice these habits, or you don't. If not, most likely, they are not very pronounced and do not interfere with you at all. And if you worry that you have this, this in itself is a symptom of an anxiety disorder. Very often, people who see a psychologist with OCD worry that they will get something serious like schizophrenia, become antisocial, even though the likelihood of this for them is extremely low.
If the habit is one-time, manifests itself rarely and does not bother a person, this is a variant of the norm, a normal manifestation of excitement. In such a case, this is a small point problem. To work with it or not depends on how uncomfortable a person is to live with it. Usually this is what happens: a person does not like his own behavior, he is well aware that his actions are associated with stress, and he comes to learn to overcome it in a different way. Sometimes relatives point out such habits to people.
But if you realize that your habits are developing into OCD - taking more and more time, affecting self-esteem, work capacity and relationships - then you should definitely contact a specialist. You can see information about obsessive-compulsive disorder, about symptoms, criteria. But deep self-diagnosis with the passage of professional tests and self-treatment is definitely not worth it.
HOW TO FIGHT THESE HABITS?
- I don't like the word "fight", it's akin to control, resisting oneself. This is an initially incorrect formulation: a person puts pressure on himself, and this causes even more discomfort and anxiety. You need to work with habits, look for and develop other ways to overcome stress, because by themselves such habits bring only temporary relief, and a person may not understand what stress is connected with.
A good way is to develop your emotional intelligence , that is, the ability to recognize your own and others' emotions and use this knowledge. Why use it? To reduce stress levels and improve quality of life. There are a number of EI skills that help manage stress.
The currently popular mindfulness technique (essentially a Buddhist technique adapted for ordinary people) includes several skills: concentration of attention, attention to breathing and body, non-reactivity . The last is the ability not to get involved in your emotions. For example, if you are reactive, then when you are angry at someone, you can say something sharp, raise your voice. If you have non-reactivity, you will notice that you are angry and take a balanced approach to further actions. This skill allows you to look at the emotion from the side and think before acting.
By developing mindfulness you will be able to concentrate better on a task. When a person is often distracted, it causes them to freak out, pull their hair, and bite their nails. If a person is immersed in a task, this does not happen.
Our emotions always manifest on a physiological level. Paying attention to your breathing and body, a person will notice that his heart beats more often, his palms sweat, and he twists in his stomach. He will understand that this is still stress, and he will begin to answer the question of why it arose. Samo awareness of the excitement is a big step towards not developing nervous habits.
It is most effective to practice mindfulness every day for 10-20 minutes. If you do this regularly, you get a way to deal with stress, and the obsessive anxiety that makes you bite your nails goes away.
WHERE TO START: MANAGE STRESS OR HABIT?
- You can not develop ways to deal with stress once and for all. You go to the gym to build muscle. Similarly, the muscles of emotional intelligence need to be kept in good shape. If you master these skills regularly, the habit goes away.
WHAT IF I NOTICE THIS PROBLEM WITH A LOVED PERSON?
- This, unfortunately, is a question of the motivation of the person himself. It is impossible to “do” good to him without his desire, he can only start to resist more and get angry. If you see that he is suffering a lot, but does not know where to turn, or out of pride does not want to admit the problem, just gently express concern, offer help. In no case should you say: “Urgently go to a psychologist” or “If you don’t go, I will part with you.” Say, "I'm worried and I want you to feel better."
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Still on this topic:
How to stop chatting and touching the hair: experts of
If you stayed for a long time in a team - at school, university, at work - you can easily list all those annoying and conspicuous habits of the people around you. Did a colleague tap his foot endlessly while sitting at the table? Did your classmate pull her hair all the time? Perhaps you yourself are guilty of some of this? Then you have a good reason to quit these habits as soon as possible. Why? You will find the answer to this question below.
We at 1Gai.ru have published the answers of experts in psychiatry and behavioral sciences, who will tell you why such behavior is bad and how to get rid of it.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, researching the etiology and treatment of tic disorders, OCD, and body-centered repetitive conduct disorder.
More about Flint Espil
Foot tapping, nail biting, and hair curling are just some of the movements we call body-focused repetitive conduct disorder. Of course, everything depends on many factors: for some people, such behavior does not matter much, but for others, it interferes with normal life and even makes them suffer.
If this behavior starts to cause problems, many experts see salvation in a standard but effective approach based on early 1970s research that spans the last 50 years. This is a method of behavioral therapy - "learning to deal with habits", which consists of three stages.
The first is to try to understand where and when you behave in this way. I encourage people to start keeping a kind of diary where they record when they catch themselves (or others catch them) in a habit. They should write down where they were, what they did or thought about, and any other factors related to the situation.
I also urge patients to pay attention to any other movement in the behavioral chain that leads to a problem (e.g. examining or rubbing fingernails, touching hair, examining skin for "flaws", rubbing it, etc.). P.).
Diary gives people the opportunity to turn into detectives and also promotes awareness of the behavior itself. Perhaps one of them is stressed because the next day he has a big event or challenge, a job offer. And twisting your hair around your fingers or tapping your feet serves as a kind of stress reliever. It is possible that they do this when they are distracted or bored.
Once you have a clear idea of when and where this occurs, you can change these variables to reduce the likelihood of this behavior occurring. If it helps relieve stress, I advise patients to look for alternative ways: meditation, mindful relaxed breathing, exercise, etc.
Lolostock / Getty Images special equipment with which they can occupy their hands. Perhaps they should generally organize their day in such a way that they do not have the opportunity to sit idle for a long time.
The second step in habit change training is to create competitive behavior. In other words, it should prevent you from curling your hair, twitching your leg, etc.
In the first case, the typical competitive behavior is crossing the arms or locking the fingers as soon as you begin to notice that the hand is moving towards the hair. We usually advise people to hold the competitive pose for about a minute. Or until the urge to stroke your hair or twitch your leg subsides.
The third stage is the social support you receive from family, loved ones or roommates. They should encourage you to use replacement behavior when they notice you have a recurring disorder.
This step is especially helpful for people who never fully understand where and when their annoying habits start. If you decide to use this step, make sure you and your helpers use consistent methods to minimize the chances of fights and conflicts.
Professor and Vice Chair of Strategic Development in the Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Center for OCD, Anxiety and Related Disorders at the University of Florida.
More about Carol Matthews
Habits are intentional movements that are performed semiconsciously. You don't say, "Today I'm going to bite my nails a little" - you do it automatically. However, at the same time, such behavior is under your control. So the first thing to do is to make the habits fully conscious.
When you become aware of your habits, it becomes much easier to say, "I'll just stop." But it is much more difficult to do this - you will just return to them again and again. In these cases, it is useful to put some kind of barrier. If you bite your nails, apply bad-tasting nail polish or vinegar to them; tap your foot - do it on the sole of the shoe. The fact is that a sharp taste and an unfamiliar sound (respectively) translate the habit into consciousness.
The next step is to consciously focus on replacing this behavior and set a time limit for yourself. If you find yourself biting your nails in certain trigger situations, such as watching a movie, you may deliberately do something to keep your hands busy.
I advise my patients to learn to knit or crochet because it can be done while watching TV. If your problem is foot tapping, cross your legs to make repetitive movements more difficult.
If you can't sit cross-legged or don't know how to crochet, there are more subtle techniques. For example, while in a meeting, you can put your feet firmly on the ground and give yourself a minute to stay in that position. As for your hands, you can put them under your buttocks when you are sitting, or just take a notepad. You can try to solve the problem with the power of thought.
For example, say to yourself, "I won't bite my nails or kick my feet for 60 seconds," and then allow yourself to return to the habit. But more often than not, a minute is enough to get distracted and forget about what you were going to do.
Such habits are different from tics in that you can control them. Yes, we can teach a person with a tic disorder to suppress their tics. We usually use similar approaches, but a tic is more like a sneeze - you can feel it coming, but you can barely stop it. It is quite possible to determine when a tick occurs, maintain it or change it, but it remains an involuntary behavior.
Psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Professor at Cornell University College of Medicine.
More about Katherine Phillips
Foot tapping, nail biting, hair curling, and other similar activities are sometimes referred to as body-focused repetitive conduct disorder. Many of these behaviors are simple habits that cause no problems and do not need to be treated. But when they are repeated, they are difficult to stop - it causes significant discomfort or impaired functioning of the body.
In the end, they can reach the level of a mental disorder. In such cases, treatment by a specialist is recommended. Two of these problematic body-focused repetitive behaviors are classified in the Diagnostic Manual (DSM-5) as separate mental health conditions: trichotillomania (hair pulling) and excoriation disorder (skin picking).
In some cases, these disorders are severe, such as extensive hair loss or severe skin infections.
Typically, the first vector of treatment for body-centered repetitive conduct disorder is learning to deal with the habit.
Treatment includes mindfulness training (through daily self-management and identification of unwanted behavior triggers), stimulus control (changing or avoiding triggers), and participation in a "competitive response" (performing a competitive action, such as clenching a massage ball or fists).
Some therapists supplement the treatment with elements such as relaxation training to help you better deal with difficult emotions. Habit change training can also be used for less problematic repetitive behaviors, such as those that are just annoying.
For more problematic behaviors, a natural supplement, NAC (N-Acetylcysteine), is typically prescribed to reduce the chance of hair and skin pulling, as well as these repetitive, body-focused behaviors.
I recommend the Swanson brand and a course of 3 months. N-acetylcysteine can be taken starting at 600 mg per day and then gradually increased to 1200 mg (or even 1800 mg) if needed. Naturally, before taking the funds, you should consult a doctor who will give recommendations on the dosage.
If your symptoms cause significant discomfort or impaired body function, you can also try a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medicine such as fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), or escitalopram (Lexapro).
These are commonly used prescription drugs that can really help with body-focused repetitive behavior disorders. The use of SSRIs is especially helpful if you have other symptoms or disorders that can be treated with SSRIs (such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder).
Another class of drugs, the atypical antipsychotics (which are effective for a wide range of symptoms), may also be useful. Although usually such medications are for more serious conduct disorders, supplemented by other symptoms. As with all medications or supplements, the healthcare provider must carefully weigh the pros and cons of each option for the individual.
Clinical psychologist with extensive experience in the treatment of OCD in children, adolescents and adults in both inpatient and outpatient settings.
Although foot tapping, hair curling and nail biting can be considered “nervous habits”, they can have different causes and different solutions. It is likely that stress exacerbates each of these behaviors, and so proper emotion management techniques would be the first logical intervention.
Stress management includes yoga, meditation and breathing practice. Among other things, it also includes positive social interaction, adequate sleep, healthy eating, and regular exercise.
While foot tapping is most commonly caused by anxiety, sometimes it can be a side effect of medication or a medical/neurological condition such as restless leg syndrome or dementia. A psychologist can help identify the true causes of tapping and suggest possible treatments.
Twisting the hair around the fingers is often accompanied by hair pulling, which affects people with trichotillomania. The treatment is quite specific - you need to find something that will help keep your hands busy, or an object that will create a temporary obstacle (cap, baseball cap or bandage). Then the habit will become conscious.
Nail biting is often due to perfectionism. In these cases, the nail looks imperfect (or just seems), and the bite is an attempt to correct the flaw. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is usually the best solution to this problem.
Each of these observed behaviors can also be a symptom of a motor tic. A genetic predisposition to repetitive behavior is often found in people who have tics (or when a family member has a tic). People with tics often complain of an urge or feeling that precedes movement. However, they can learn a competing response.
Raising awareness of each of these behaviors and also trying to find alternative behaviors is a good start. Avoid triggers and try to get plenty of rest. Self-reflective analysis of behavior, its pros and cons can help develop motivation for further actions. Setting small but reasonable and realistic goals is essential to any behavior change process, and the support of others is a necessary addition.
Visiting a mental health professional with extensive experience in applied behavioral analysis and cognitive behavioral therapy can help clarify the problem and find the right solution.
Associate Professor of Psychology at Knox College. The area of research is the assessment, classification and diagnosis of anxiety and emotional disorders.
More about Sarah O'Brien
Research shows that rewarding yourself for a behavior increases the likelihood that it will happen again. So think about how you can reward yourself every time you don't do what you're trying to overcome.
For example, if you love M&Ms, buy them every time you don't touch your hair during a meeting or any other exciting event. Over time, you'll be less likely to touch your hair, further disrupting this automatic connection.
It should not be forgotten that although such habits are quite common and harmless, there are more serious forms that lead to physical, psychological and social consequences.
For example, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and excoriation (skin-picking disorder). These are clinical diagnoses that should be treated by a professional with relevant experience as there are effective treatments based on the principles described above.
Finally, it's worth finding out what causes this behavior? Both harmless and more serious behaviors can be triggered by internal thoughts or emotions (eg, anxiety, agitation, anger, boredom) or external circumstances (specific people, places, or situations).
Self-monitoring will help you identify triggers that need to be addressed. If you find yourself constantly touching your hair during a meeting (because it makes you stressed), you need to not only work on the habit itself, but also eliminate the cause of stress.
Stanford University Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
You may tap/twitch your foot out of anxiety or impatience. For a person with a concentration problem, this can be a way to ignore distractions. The fact that such a habit can annoy others will be enough motivating and weighty reason to stop. But if tapping/jerking your feet helps you focus and doesn't bother anyone, you may not need to do anything about it at all.
If you tap your foot when you feel anxious and impatient, why do you feel that way? Are these feelings rational? (What follows this?
How important is this? How time dependent? Which of these can you control and which can't? What might be the results?). Once you put this into perspective, meditate or take your mind off the source of the disturbance. It's better than mindlessly tapping your foot.
The situation is similar with nails. This is bad from every point of view: this is not the most decent behavior in society, far from being an effective way of caring for the body, which can harm nails and cuticles. In addition, nail biting increases the risk of disease (especially now, during the COVID-19 pandemic).). If it's a habit, try to get rid of it as soon as possible.
There is even a special English-language electronic publication for this, in which you can find recommendations for getting rid of repetitive behavior disorder focused on the body. You can find it from this link.
I think twirling your hair around your fingers is like tapping your foot in places - it can be very annoying to others. If there is nothing serious behind this habit, but because of it your hair breaks or falls out, I recommend the above publication.