Whoever came up with the expression “drop like a bad habit” most likely never tried to stop biting their nails. So-called nervous habits are considered cousins of compulsive disorders. “Some people would define these habits as obsessive behavior,” says psychotherapist Richard O’Connor, author of “Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits.” “It’s a matter of how much it impinges on your life, how much of an inconvenience or a disability or an annoyance it is.”
Many habits are coping mechanisms or ways to reduce stress. But at the same time, they can cause anxiety – for example, a well-groomed, successful person may be embarrassed by ragged, chewed fingernails.
Stopping a chronic habit can be challenging because the behavior often is done unconsciously. “Habits can be relearned with a combination of motivation and persistence. But sometimes it requires somebody helping,” says psychologist Emanuel Maidenberg, director of the UCLA Cognitive Therapy Clinic.
That somebody might be a partner or spouse who can remind you when you’re cracking your knuckles or twirling your hair – as long as the reminders don’t cross the line into nagging, another not-so-nice habit.
Self-awareness is key when trying to halt a problematic repetitive behavior. “If you’re really determined, be very vigilant, so you know when your fingers come to your mouth or whatever it is. If you successfully resist many times, then the behavior might go away. But if it becomes more and more difficult over time to resist, then you have to recognize the possibility that this is beyond your control. The more you don’t do it, the more you have a compulsive urge. Eventually, you give in. Then I would seek help, ideally, from a mental health professional,” advises John Koo, a UCSF psychiatrist and dermatologist.
(Click here to read the full article, written by Emily Dwass, SD Union Tribune)