Nervous Habits. Stress Habits. Anxiety Habits. I have quite a few of them but some of them actually hurt. I tend to tear at my fingers. I push back my cuticles. I tear them off. I rip at my skin around my fingers. I never used to bite my nails, but on long car rides going home to see my family I find myself ripping my nails off too. Until I bleed. I can’t seem to stop either. It hurts. I know this isn’t good. Especially as it makes doing anything throughout the day hurt as well. Washing my hands, soap and lotion, sting. Bending my fingers at all, which if you’re even remotely functional as a person you’ll notice you do almost continuously throughout the day, my skin is tight and painful. This isn’t good. It hurts and I hate it.
When I’m incredibly stressed out it becomes kind of a compulsion. I’m not sure why. And I’m not sure how to stop even though I know this isn’t helping me in any way. I just can’t stop myself.
At university I had a group of 6 friends in my major and we’d all study together. One of them wasn’t quite the high achiever I was. He would come in to class periodically, sit next to me, look at my hands (as I took notes with multiple pen colors), and blanch… “Oh crap, when’s the test?” I had such severe test anxiety I would destroy my fingers in the few days preceding any of our tests and consequently have band-aids on half my fingers. He’d see all the band-aids and know we had an exam. It was seriously ridiculous. It still is. It’s been getting worse lately.
I’m trying so hard to remain grounded and optimistic about this move, but I’m so incredibly stressed out.
A habit is an activity that is acquired, done frequently, done automatically, and difficult to stop. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines habit as: a) a thing done often and hence, usually, done easily; practice; custom; b) pattern of action that is acquired and has become so automatic that it is difficult to break.
“Sometimes, a nervous habit begins as a reaction to a physical injury or psychological trauma. When the behavior continues long after the original injury or trauma, takes on an unusual form and is performed in excess, it becomes a nervous habit. Often, a habit begins as a normal behavior that becomes more frequent or becomes altered in its form.”
I don’t even remember when these particular habits started. Cherry Pedrick, RN says, “Think back to the first time that you performed your particular habit. If you are like most of us, you don’t remember the first time. It probably started as one behavior among many behaviors in your daily life. It may have relieved anxiety, stress, or boredom. Most nervous habits do; that is their purpose. You did it that first time and it brought relief, so you did it the next time you faced a stressful situation. It was incorporated into your behavior patterns and you forgot why you did it the first time.”
I think this is true for me as well. Especially in the way that it momentarily refocuses my attention on something other than the stressor at hand.
I find it concerning though because it also reminds me of my self-harming behavior that I’ve done so well to recover from. I’m not saying that nervous habits like nail biting or skin picking or whatever are on the level of self-harming behavior, but in myself I see a correlation. It’s a way to manage and reduce anxiety. In myself the habit gets bigger the greater the stressor becomes. I recognize this so it’s important to find more constructive ways to redirect that focus. I don’t even realize I’m doing this half the time until I’m in the middle of it.
Clearly I’m a bit older now, but I’ve always had nervous habits. I sucked my thumb as a child. I know a lot of kids that did. Often the development of this kind of habit serves an important purpose, usually comfort. “We call them nervous habits but more commonly it's about being overtired, out of control, or trying to concentrate,'' says clinical psychologist Laura Gutermuth Foster, who researches developmental disorders at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. They’re responses developed to soothe where soothing is otherwise not found.
I guess it doesn’t surprise me that I still have these kinds of habits, but it’s interesting for me to note that I’ve always had them in some form or another. And in many instances my habits have become rituals which are a whole new level of compulsion.
It’s good to take note of these things. Especially if you feel the need to quit. I think this is a problem for me because I want to stop and I’m struggling to. I’ve quit other kinds of destructive habits before, so I’m sure I can do this too. This one keeps coming back though. By time I notice it though, I’m full swing in the middle of something that isn’t destructive enough for most to consider it “a problem”, but is uncomfortable enough that I don’t want to do it. And it’s never so bad as when I’m stressed out. Stress is unavoidable in life, so it looks like I need to work on managing mine a little better. Ugh.
Do you have any nervous habits?