Stop touching your face... and other things

Public health officials consistently promote hand-washing as a way for people to protect themselves from Covid-19. 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 World Health Organisation has been telling people to stop touching their faces. But this, of course, is easier said than done

| MARCH 20, 2020, 02:39 AM IST

People touch their faces frequently. They wipe their eyes, scratch their noses, bite their nails and twirl their mustaches. They touch their faces more when they are anxious, embarrassed or stressed, but also when they aren’t feeling anything at all. 

Studies show that students, office workers, medical personnel and people on trains touch their faces between 9-23 times per hour, on average.Self-monitor... or get a monitorCreate new responsesChanging your environment can reduce your urges to touch your face and your need to use alternative responses 

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.

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.

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 fists, sit on your hands, press 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. Fiddle with a pen or squeeze a stress ball. The activity shouldn’t involve touching any part of your head.

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.

Other ways you can reduce the spread of infectious diseases include  practicing social spacing, washing 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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