Can’t stop biting your nails, picking your skin or playing with your hair? New research suggests that an incredibly simple technique can cure it
Millions of people who regularly pick at their skin, bite their nails or pull their hair can kick the habit with a trick that anyone can do.
It may sound super-simple, but researchers in Germany have found that gently rubbing the skin whenever someone wants it can help combat the behavior.
In a six-week study of 268 people, 53 percent of participants who adopted the behavior said they saw improvement compared to 20 percent who did not use the technique. Eighty percent said they would recommend the hack to a friend.
Researchers in Germany say that gently rubbing the skin whenever someone wants to pick it or bite their nails can help break the habit.
Movements they suggest include holding hands together and gently rubbing fingertips against each other.
Up to five percent of Americans — the equivalent of 17 million people — have the condition, medically called body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRB).
Sufferers can’t stop themselves from compulsively pulling their hair or picking at their skin, even if it leads to scabs, scars or bald spots.
Doctors say the behavior is likely linked to stress or concerns about appearance.
In the past, patients have been treated with behavioral therapy to break the habit or take anti-depressants.
In the latest study, published in JAMA Dermatology, scientists recruited people with BFRB through social media in 2022.
Most of the participants were in their 30s, with 68 percent reporting frequent skin picking while 36 percent reported repetitive nail biting and 28 percent said they pulled their hair.
They were divided into two groups, one group was asked to practice the behavior and the rest were informed that they were on a waiting list for treatment.
To learn the technique, participants were sent a video and asked to choose three of the movements shown whenever they felt the urge to choose themselves.
This includes gently circling the index and middle fingers on top of the thumb without touching the nails and crossing the arms and stroking the hair on the arms.
Participants can place the fingertips of both hands together and then gently circle the fingertips against each other.
Whenever they went to pick their skin or engage in similar harmful behavior they were encouraged to behave until the urge subsided.
The results showed that patients following the behavior saw a ‘significant’ improvement compared to the control group.
In their conclusion, the scientists wrote: ‘The current proof-of-concept randomized clinical trial tentatively demonstrates that habit replacement is a feasible and effective self-help strategy.’
Other techniques include crossing the arms and gently rubbing the hair on the ends of the arms
They suggested that the movement helped people stop the behavior by teaching them an alternative and less harmful habit.
Natasha Bellen, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, who was not involved in the research, told NBC that this is called ‘decoupling’ or when a habit you can change is unlearned by performing it.
He explained that, for example, when someone goes to bite their nails, they may put their hand over their mouth but touch an earlobe instead of the mouth.
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