Trying to Break Nervous Habits

Trigger warning – this post contains thoughts about various damaging nervous habits, including skin picking and trichotillomania tendencies. If you wish to skip this part and explore the ways I’ve been trying to fight these things, please scroll down until you see the symbol: ♦♦♦

The thing that has been on the forefront of my mind the past week is just how bad my nervous habits can be. They’re particularly damaging to my physical body, and really, in the end, leave me with no reprieve mentally, which is what they “supposedly” meant to do.

One of the biggest signs of someone with anxiety, so I’ve read a hundred times over, is if the person bites or picks at their nails. As a kid, I frequently bit my nails, down to where I basically didn’t even have any. I had adult relatives yell at me, tell me to stop, but that only introduced a nagging sensation to do it more. I had always been a nervous, quiet kid, who was terrified of strangers and raised voices. The very thought of someone yelling at me, or even hearing other people argue made my skin crawl. These fears cycled in my head up until I was a teenager.

As I neared the end of high school, I finally told myself I needed to stop, because I would be going off to college, and I didn’t think it would help in making friends.

Instead of biting my nails, I started picking at the skin around my nails. The cuticles, hangnails, small scabs, whatever, I felt compelled to peel them away. There wasn’t some blood thirst I had, just the calming idea that only I had control over what my fingers looked like. That it was my  responsibility to make them look like a hand model’s. And yet, I was destroying that image every time I picked up nail clippers.

Unfortunately, this is a habit I find myself with still to this day. There’s this weird comfort in the idea I have control over my fingers; control, I guess, is something I feel like I lack in my life. I know, rationally, I’ve given control up to my anxiety, but my anxiety comforts me by telling me that I’m still the one in charge (then laughs at me later). I can go a few weeks without not trying to get rid of the scabs or the hangnails, but usually something triggers me, and I start all over, with a cycle that may not end for months.

A more recent nervous habit I’ve come to pick up has been pulling out my eyelashes. This sounds painful and maybe even stupid, and it really kind of is. It started happening in the middle of my last job, my first “adult” job. I had come out of college, spent four months looking for a job, and this had been the only one to offer me a position. I worked with them for about 8 or 9 months, and somewhere in the middle of it all, I became extremely anxious and depressed. I didn’t want to wake up to go to this job, every day felt like it was several days long, and I would come home easily annoyed and sluggish. To cope, something in my brain told me to yank on my eyelashes.

I know it was my job that had caused the anxiety and depression (and occasional bouts of depersonalization), because the moment I quit and changed to a new job, I became aware of my hand going to my lashes. I can’t remember now when exactly I would feel the urge to pull, but now I notice it’s when I get bored or feel like I should be doing something.

It’s a weird feeling; it’s like my eyelashes themselves become itchy, and the moment I “release” them, the itching is gone. But that means I’m left with gaps in my eyelashes, eyelashes that were once full and long and now are short and thin.

♦♦♦

I’m trying to stop picking at the skin around my fingers, and stop pulling at my eyelashes. These are both habits I know are harmful and can end up just increasing my anxiety and nervousness if I don’t stop.

One of the ways I’ve found to relax myself is to have something in my hands, or to be doing something with my hands. Typing, clicking a pen, or playing with a fidget cube tends to keep my hands distracted from drifting. Right now, it’s not a “cure”, but it does help.

Clicking pens or even playing with fidget cubes, I know, can become annoying for people around me. And I often feel bad for doing these things, and stop. But when I stop, and I start to feel creeping sensations to do something with my hands, that’s when I start to pick or pull. For myself, I need to stop being concerned about annoying people, and just go about doing things I know will keep me relaxed. (Which, in itself, is its own frog to swallow. I have a tendency to be very aware of what others may think about me.)

Other ways I’m trying to stop this is by reminding myself of how harmful it will be, if I don’t stop now. Two, three, four, five years down the road, I could end up with even worse nervous habits, and a slew of health problems because of it.

I try to remind myself that the moment I get fidgety, I need to do something. I need to hold a marker, maybe scribble on some paper, or maybe get up and walk around for a minute. The best way to deal with nervous, anxious, and fidgeting habits is, I believe, to be conscious of when I’m starting to feel these things, and react in a manner that will keep me from doing something I’ll regret later.

Some days it feels like I’m trying to fight my anxiety, my depression, my nervous and anxious and bad habits with a toothpick. They’re a three-headed monster, and all I have is this little stick of wood. The pessimism in me tells me to just be eaten, end the battle already. The optimism in me tells me I just need to figure out how to give the monster splinter.

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