Body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) are intense urges like biting, picking, and pulling that can cause damage. As many as 1 in 20 people have a BFRB, but they can be dismissed as “bad habits.” While BFRBs share some symptoms with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they’re not the same. They’re also different from self-harming rituals, like cutting yourself.
Experts are still trying to figure this out, but they know your genes are involved. If someone in your family has a BFRB, you’re more likely to have one, too. Stress plays a big role.
If you can’t help but pick at pimples, scabs, bumps, or even healthy skin, you have dermatillomania, sometimes called excoriation disorder. Doctors don’t know what causes it, but people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more likely to have it. Wearing bandages on your fingers or keeping your hands busy with a fidget spinner may stop you from picking so much.
You probably know this BFRB by its common name: nail biting. As many as 30% of people do this -- some aren’t even aware of it. Besides damaging your skin and nails, this also can hurt your teeth and lead to infections. Keeping your nails trimmed short can help. You can also use a special nail product that has a bitter taste.
People with this BFRB can’t stop biting the inside of their mouths. Over time, this causes sores and swelling. The inner lining of your mouth can also start to feel bumpy, which may make you want to chew it more. Since people often do this to self-soothe, it can help to find a different action, like chewing gum, that gives you the same feeling.
If you have this BFRB, you can’t stop picking or pulling at your fingernails and toenails, as well as the skin around them. (You may also chew or bite them.) Over time, this leads to hangnails and open sores, and you can pass germs from your mouth into your skin. That can lead to infections. Instead, you might play with Silly Putty or squeeze a stress ball. Wearing a pair of gloves could help, too.
If you pick your nose so much that it affects your daily life, you may have rhinotillexomania. In some cases, people spend hours each day trying to clean out their noses. People who have this BFRB are also more likely to have another one, like skin picking or biting their nails. Try to notice each time you have the urge to pick your nose and write down how you feel at the time. This might help you figure out your triggers and what to do about them.
Some people yank hair from their heads, eyelashes, eyebrows, or other parts of their bodies. Anxiety or boredom can trigger it. In some cases, people don’t know they’re pulling their hair. Trichotillomania often starts between ages 10 and 13, but it can be a problem for life. You can try to replace it with another, more healthy habit. For example, you might knit, crochet, or cross-stitch to keep your fingers busy.
If you have a BFRB, you can try several things to keep your habit from taking over your life. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help the most. This type of therapy helps make you aware of your feelings and thoughts and gives you more control over them. Sometimes medicines can help, too. Talk with your doctor or therapist about what might work best for you.
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