In any case, it’s reasonable to assume other appendages are okay alternatives to unwashed hands in a pinch, but Tierno recommends sticking to best hygiene practices whenever possible. “You can use the back of your wrist to rub whatever it is or use a sanitizing agent first, but it may behoove you to get up, go to the bathroom, wash your hands, and then scratch,” says Tierno.
For more emotional or circumstantial face-touching (like those of us who do it when we’re nervous, bored, or watching TV, for example), Deibler and Mouton-Odum are both proponents of objects that keep your hands busy, like fidget toys or jewelry. “If our hands have something to occupy them, we’re less likely to start scratching and rubbing and doing our old habits,” says Mouton-Odum.
Of course, if you do utilize a tool like a fidget toy ($ 10, Amazon) or a spinner ring ($ 13, Amazon), you’ll want to adhere to best hygiene practices of other high-touch objects, like your phone, which the CDC recommends disinfecting with a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. And, you know, make sure not to put these fidget objects in your mouth or around your face because, well, that defeats the whole purpose.
3. Find practical workarounds for your various triggers.
After you’ve paid all that attention to when, how, and why you touch your face, you can find some creative solutions. For example, if you notice that your contacts make you rub your eyes a lot, you may consider dusting off your old glasses instead. On the other hand, if you notice you’re constantly adjusting your glasses, swap to contacts. Pull your hair back if you’re always pushing it out of your face, or make sure to pluck that rogue chin hair you can’t keep your fingers away from. If you’re a nail-biter, you might want to get a manicure you’re less likely to gnaw at or try deterrent treatment polish ($ 16, Amazon). Basically, it’s all about finding what works for you.
Normally, Mouton-Odum wouldn’t advise these types of hacks as first responses to face-touching—and still recommends the emphasis be on mindfulness around the habit—but given our heightened attention to hygiene right now, it’s understandable if you want to take a little extra precaution. If this kind of thing will give you some peace of mind without interfering with your life in any major way, that’s cool too.
4. Address underlying emotional reasons behind the habit.
If you find that feelings like worry, anxiety, or other distress are triggers for face-touching, that’s something you want to tackle too. Obviously, tips for managing those emotions could make up an entirely new article (or several), but as a baseline, make sure you’re practicing self-care in the ways that are most helpful to you, whether that’s getting enough sleep, discussing this with your therapist if you have one, or possibly seeking out someone to talk to if you don’t see an expert for your mental health but feel like it might be helpful. Beyond that, if there are activities that you know are aggravating your distress—like scrolling through Twitter for minute-by-minute updates on the new coronavirus—now might be the time to cut back on those.
5. Actually practice not touching yourself.
Back to mindfulness for a sec. According to Mouton-Odum, most of us aren’t good with sitting in discomfort—and why would we be? It’s really human to avoid discomfort at all costs. But when combating a habit like face-touching, it can be really helpful to make yourself sit with it and develop a stronger sense of body-awareness.