Stop Touching Your Face Before You Contract the Coronavirus

 In Environment, Information

Public health offi­cials con­sis­tent­ly pro­mote hand-wash­ing as a way for people to pro­tect them­selves from the COVID-19 coronavirus. However, this virus can live on metal and plastic for days, so simply adjust­ing your eye­glass­es with unwashed hands may be enough to infect your­self. Thus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have been telling people to stop touch­ing their faces.

We are experts in psy­cho­log­i­cal sci­ence and public health. Brian Labus is an expert in com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases who knows what people should do to avoid becom­ing infect­ed. Stephen Benning is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist who helps clients change their habits and manage stress in healthy ways. Kimberly Barchard is an expert in research meth­ods who wanted to know what the research says about face-touch­ing. Together, we used our clin­i­cal exper­tise and the research lit­er­a­ture to iden­ti­fy the best prac­tices to reduce face-touch­ing and lower people’s chances of catch­ing COVID-19.

People touch their faces fre­quent­ly. They wipe their eyes, scratch their noses, bite their nails and twirl their mus­tach­es. People touch their faces more when they are anxiousembarrassed or stressed, but also when they aren’t feel­ing any­thing at all. Studies show that studentsoffice workersmedical personnel and people on trains touch their faces between nine and 23 times per hour, on aver­age.

Why is it so hard to stop? Face-touch­ing rewards us by reliev­ing momen­tary dis­com­forts like itches and muscle ten­sion. These dis­com­forts usually pass within a minute, but face-touch­ing pro­vides imme­di­ate relief that even­tu­al­ly makes it a habit­u­al response that resists change.

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Stop touch­ing your face, Uncle Bill! Do you want to get coro­n­avirus? Brian Keith was always touch­ing his face to show irri­ta­tion, deep thought, res­ig­na­tion, exas­per­a­tion, and var­i­ous other emo­tions. He’d be having a hard time right now.

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Change habit­u­al behav­iors

Habit reversal training is a well-estab­lished behav­ior mod­i­fi­ca­tion tech­nique that helps people stop a variety of seemingly automatic behaviors, such as nervous ticsnail-biting and stuttering. It trains people to notice the dis­com­fort that prompts their habits, select anoth­er behav­ior to use until the dis­com­fort passes and change their sur­round­ings to lessen their dis­com­fort.

You may have already changed some of your other habits – for exam­ple, by cough­ing into your elbow instead of your hands, or greet­ing others with a bow or wave instead of a hand­shake. But unlike cough­ing and hand-shak­ing, people fre­quent­ly touch their faces without being aware of doing so. So the first step in reduc­ing face-touch­ing is becoming aware of it.

Each time you touch your face, notice how you touched your face, the urge or sen­sa­tion that pre­ced­ed it and the sit­u­a­tion you were in – what you were doing, where you were phys­i­cal­ly or what you were feel­ing emo­tion­al­ly. If you usu­al­ly don’t notice when you touch your face, you can ask some­one else to point it out.

Self-mon­i­tor­ing is more effec­tive when people create a physical record. You can create a log where you briefly describe each instance of face-touch­ing. For exam­ple, log entries might say:

• Scratched nose with finger, felt itch, while at my desk

• Fiddled with eye­glass­es, hands tin­gled, frus­trat­ed

• Rested chin on palm, neck sore, while read­ing

• Bit fin­ger­nail, nail caught on pants, watch­ing TV

Self-mon­i­tor­ing is more effec­tive if people share their outcomes publicly, so con­sid­er shar­ing your results with friends or post it on social media.

Create new respons­es

Now that you are aware of the behav­ior you want to change, you can replace it with a com­pet­ing response that oppos­es the muscle move­ments needed to touch your face. When you feel the urge to touch your face, you can clench your fistssit on your handspress your palms onto the tops of your thighs or stretch your arms straight down at your sides. This com­pet­ing response should be incon­spic­u­ous and use a posi­tion that can be held for at least a minute. Use the com­pet­ing response for as long as the urge to touch your face per­sists.

Some sources rec­om­mend object manip­u­la­tion, in which you occupy your hands with some­thing else. You can rub your fin­ger­tips, fiddle with a pen or squeeze a stress ball. The activ­i­ty shouldn’t involve touch­ing any part of your head. For tough-to-break habits, object manip­u­la­tion isn’t as effective as com­pet­ing respons­es, per­haps because people tend to play with objects when bored, but touch their faces and hair when anxious.

Learn more about breaking the itch-scratch cycle.

Manage your trig­gers

Changing your environment can reduce your urges to touch your face and your need to use alter­na­tive respons­es. Use your log to figure out what sit­u­a­tions or emo­tions are asso­ci­at­ed with your face-touch­ing. For exam­ple:

• If your glass­es keep slip­ping off your nose, you can use ear hooks or hair ties to pre­vent slip­page.

• If you bite your nails, you can use a file to keep your nails short, or wear gloves or fin­ger­tip ban­dages, so that nail-biting is impos­si­ble.

• If aller­gies make your eyes or skin itch or make your nose run, you can limit your expo­sure to aller­gens or take anti­his­t­a­mines.

• If you get food stuck between your teeth, you can brush your teeth after each meal.

• If your hair gets in your eyes and mouth, you can use an elas­tic, scarf or hair prod­uct to keep it back.

You can read more detailed infor­ma­tion about habit reversal training.

Face it, you may not be able to stop

Most people cannot entire­ly elim­i­nate unwant­ed habits, but they can reduce them. Consistent with the principles of harm reduction, just reduc­ing face-touch­ing lessens the oppor­tu­ni­ties for virus­es to enter your system.

Sometimes you need to touch your face: floss­ing your teeth, putting in con­tact lenses, wiping food off your lips, putting on makeup or shav­ing your jaw. Remember to wash your hands first. To adjust your glass­es with­out first wash­ing your hands, use a tissue and throw it out imme­di­ate­ly after use. Avoid finger food and using unwashed hands to put food into your mouth. Wash your hands first, or use uten­sils or the wrap­per to handle the food.

Other ways you can reduce the spread of infec­tious dis­eases include prac­tic­ing social spacingwashing hands thor­ough­ly with soap and water or hand sanitizer and dis­in­fect­ing high-touch sur­faces reg­u­lar­ly. When your hands touch con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed sur­faces, though, the sug­ges­tions above may help you avoid touch­ing your face before you wash them again.

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This arti­cle is repub­lished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

National Interest source|articles

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