Biting your nails? Ripping and chewing your skin? Pulling your hair out?

There are many damaging and unsightly habits that seem so compelling that we just can't stop ourselves – or can we?

Here's the good new - change is possible!

If you are one of many people who are plagued by these so-called 'hand-to-mouth' or 'hand-to-head' habits, you will be glad to hear that it is not as difficult to stop as you might think.

Why fight it?

Many onlookers find it just as off-putting as someone picking their nose right in front of you, so make yourself aware of the impact you might be having on your surroundings and what impressions you leave. People unconsciously draw conclusions about you as a person; when asked to describe nail-biters, some people label them as appearing insecure, weak, tense, and not coping well.

Most importantly though, what is the impact on yourself, apart from (for example) unsightly nails or fingers? These unhelpful habits are coping strategies which simply don't work. Instead of alleviating a difficult situation, this actually makes it worse. It increases bodily tension, which in turn increases mental tension, and additionally it can bring about self-downing thoughts when you become aware that 'you've done it again'. Quite often this starts a vicious cycle; and on and on it goes.

What can you do about it?

First of all, it is important to identify which situations and circumstances trigger this behaviour in you. Mostly these behaviours manifest in stressful situations, often linked with feelings of insecurity or even simply with tension. Additionally though, in some cases, the habit has become so reinforced that it even sets in when feeling relaxed; when pondering about something, being entangled in your thoughts, or even when being bored. In those cases, there are underlying tensions involved - you might feel relaxed, but you actually have physical and mental habitual tensions that you are not aware of, and difficulties with 'letting go'.

Nail-biting and similar behaviours can be addressed with a mix of methods

These behaviours often manifest themselves when being caught up in ruminative thinking cycles. They can set in without us hardly noticing. In this case, mindfulness exercises can help you to switch from autopilot to the present moment, and to the situation at hand. This is important to help avoid unhelpful automated 'reacting', and rather being able to 'respond' with awareness and intention.

'Hand-to-head' habits are mostly classified as nervous habits. Therefore, relaxation techniques can help to break chronic tension patterns. When physically relaxed, it is nearly impossible to be mentally tense, and when physically relaxed it is as good as impossible to fall into a compulsive physical action. We are mostly unaware of habitual holding patterns, but we all have them to some extent. Sometimes clients tell me they are relaxed, but a little later it reveals they have recently consulted their GP because of neck pain or teeth grinding. Both are related to habitual muscle holding patterns, so relaxation exercises are an important part of fighting nervous habits. The technique of progressive muscle relaxation is particularly helpful; hereby different muscle areas are being briefly tensed and subsequently relaxed, which helps to lower overall muscle tone.

Breathing techniques can also help to change and adapt physical and mental tension patterns.

Hypnotherapy, in combination with the above methods, as well as cognitive behavioural strategies, can greatly help you to make the change you need.

Additionally to the above methods, behavioural techniques like 'urge-surfing' will be practised during treatment. Most importantly, we also install a counter-habit to prevent the physical action from happening. What does this entail? Well, we install a response incompatible with the undesired habit, and hereby it is important to stop the undesired routine at its first steps. In the case of nail-biting, we would look at what you do just before biting your nails. For example, a lot of nail-biters tell me they first examine with their fingers which bit of nail or skin to bite. This is the stage to stop the routine. With hypnosis and practice, a habit can be installed to, for example, bend the fingers as relaxed as possible against the palm, forming loose fists. This will immobilise the fingers and render it impossible to continue with the routine of checking out skin and nails, and therefore stop the unwanted habit at its earliest stage. Sometimes, in therapy, it might be useful as well to address underlying issues that emerge, so do contact a therapist should you want help with this process.

Hypnotherapy is not magic – but it can be life changing!

The client's full commitment and participation is important to facilitate change, and the change will be much more powerful if the client remembers to practice in-between sessions. Collaboration is key and will help to swiftly bring about lasting change.

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Jasminka Milena Letzas, MA, MA, Dip CBH, Dip SMRB

Jasminka is a hypnotherapist based in London, N1. She has successfully worked with many clients, tackling a wide range of issues. Her specialisms are stress management, anxiety, relationship issues, unhelpful habits and addictions.… Read more

Written by Jasminka Milena Letzas, MA, MA, Dip CBH, Dip SMRB

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