Until the Coronavirus outbreak, did you realize how often you touch your face? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been telling us not to do it, and it sure sounds easy enough. But in practice? Oy.
We touch our faces a lot. A LOT. A 2015 study at a university in Australia observed a group of med students touching their faces an average of 23 times per hour. And if the med students can’t stop touching their faces, what hope do the rest of us have?
“It’s just an activity we do that we don’t even think about,” Cynthia Weston, an assistant professor in Texas A&M University’s College of Nursing said in an article for Texas A&M Today. “You feel like your hair’s in your eyes, so you go to brush it away, or you feel tired and you rub your eyes, or your nose itches.”
The Coronavirus spreads through droplets that get tossed around our environment whenever someone coughs, sneezes or laughs. Then the droplets collect on an elevator button, for example. Someone comes along, touches that button, then without even realizing it, touches their nose, eyes, or mouth, allowing the virus to easily enter the body.
Touching our faces is a bad habit that can make us very sick. So how do we stop it?
“For touching your face, you tend to do that when you are in certain situations or feel a certain way,” Brian Anderson, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Texas A&M said in Texas A&M Today. “So if you feel bored, if you feel very empathetic in the context of a conversation, you may lean forward and put your hand on your chin. The first step for somebody trying to overcome a habit is to raise your consciousness.”
Anderson says the key to stopping face-touching is to understand it isn’t something that happens randomly. He says people should first try to identify what motivates them to touch their face. For example, we rub our eyes when we’re tried, or we rest our chin in our hands when we get bored.
But it isn’t enough to simply know what makes you touch your face. You have to develop a new habit to take the place of face-touching. You with me?
“To make your life as easy as possible, you want that habit to be somewhat similar, but safer,” he told Texas A&M Today. “If you have a tendency to rub your eyes, maybe take a clean handkerchief with you and pull that out to rub your eyes, and then clean it at the end of the day.”
Anderson also suggests we rest the side of our head on our fingers instead of putting our chin in our hands. We’d still be touching our head, but our fingers wouldn’t be right next to a mucous membrane.
Anderson cautions that we can’t build a new habit right away. It takes many hours of practice for it to become automatic. It could take weeks or over a month for it to really become ingrained. After all, we’re talking about overcoming something you’ve been doing your entire life.
“You need to build up a lot of experience to make it automatic,” Anderson said. “Probably multiple hundreds of times. Within two or three weeks, hopefully, you’ll start to feel some gravity toward your new habit. It’s not going to be fully automatic, but within a few weeks expect it to become a little bit easier.”
In the meantime, keep washing your hands!