Overcoming Nervous Habits

Nail Biter

Do you ever grind your teeth, twist your hair, or bite your nails?  If this is not an unusual occurrence, you may have a nervous habit.

The physical expression of a nervous habit is symbolic of an emotion (or emotions) we feel.  The stress you hold in your jaw as you feverishly work to meet a deadline may manifest as teeth grinding.  The insecurity you feel at a dinner party may result in hair twisting or nail biting.

Research shows that our stress and emotional levels play a large role in the level of our mental and physical health.  Unfortunately, stress is a fact of life and difficult to avoid altogether.

However, it is possible to manage how you react to stress.

Observe What's Going On

Pay attention to what you're feeling next time you find yourself pounding your fingers on the table as you wait for your lunch date to arrive.  Is there another way, in that moment, you can deal with the particular emotion you're experiencing?

Next, be mindful of the reaction other people have to your nervous habit.  Do people seem annoyed when you pound your fingers on a table?  Do you get questioning glances when someone sees you biting your nails or twisting your hair?  Do you get a look of sympathy when you're caught biting your lip?

It's important to remember that our feelings and emotions also affect friends, family members, and coworkers.  Especially when these emotions evoke a repetitive nervous habit.

Not only do nervous habits show how you're really feeling, but some have proven to be health hazards.  Like the germs exchanged from fingers to mouth when you bite your nails, or hair loss resulting from twisting or pulling your hair.

All the more reason to recognize and remain mindful of your nervous habits.

Take Control of Your Stress

Once you know what your stress or emotional triggers are, it is easier to get a grip on those pesky nervous habits.

Here are three general tips that can help you get control:

  • Take a walk.  It's probably the oldest trick in the book, but only because it's the best one.  Moving gets your blood pumping, helps you breathe, and makes you feel you're leaving the situation - even if you remain in the same room.  Your brain can then relax and deal with, think through, or resolve what you're facing.
  • Get outside.  If you can take that walk outside, all the better.  But just getting outside can create a sense of calm.  You'll not only have a change of scenery, you will experience the soothing effect nature miraculously provides.  Lift your face to the sun, and breathe.
  • Find an alternative.  Rather than giving in to your nervous habit, find something else to do.  If you can't take a walk or get outside, find an activity to simultaneously stimulate your brain and busy your hands.  Paint, knit, write, draw, cook, sew, play a musical instrument, etc.

Preparation Will Put Your Nervous Habits at Ease

You know what your emotional triggers are, and you know what to do to ease them.  Now let's explore meeting them head-on. 

If the stress causing your nervous habits stems from social interactions, it may be time for a confidence boost.  For instance, you're at a dinner party with frayed nerves because you aren't sure your table manners are up to par.  Or you attend a networking event, but see no one you know and just can't bring yourself to join a conversation or introduce yourself.

Either of these situations could be a nail-biting trigger.  But they are also situations in which a little preparation can make a great difference in your confidence level.

Brushing up on your social etiquette, and using social occasions as your practice field, will definitely help.  Knowledge and attitude are the keys to keeping you at ease.

Observe how others deal with interactions and occasions.  There are people who handle any social engagement with aplomb.  Watch them and learn.

You will also notice people who are just getting through, who are also nervous and unsure.  It's comforting to know you aren't the only one, so be sure and introduce yourself.  A little compassion will be a big help to them - and to you.

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