How to Stop Picking Your Nose (91% of the Population Does It!)
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Let me guess: You want to stop picking your nose. Although you know it is gross, you might be surprised to learn that 91% of adults admit to picking their noses—but only 71% of adults think it is a common habit (source).
So, why is picking your nose an issue? Among other health problems, nose picking can lead to abrasions inside the nose and tiny amounts of bleeding (source). While that alone may not be a big deal, the germs in your nose are able to thrive and multiply in the presence of blood.
You are not alone if you are embarrassed about picking your nose, especially in public. Here we will talk about how you can effectively break the embarrassing habit.
Negative Health Effects of Nose Picking
According to Livestrong.com, there are several negative health effects of nose picking. You are aware of the obvious effect of the habit being unsightly and embarrassing, and it is likely that you realize that it is unhygienic. It is unsightly and rude to pick your nose while in the presence of others, creating social embarrassment. But it is also important to know that picking your nose introduces your fingers to germs. The result? The germs can then be transferred to anything you touch.
Picking your nose can also lead to an infection. When you touch your face with your fingers, you are transferring germs to your face, which will then get in and around the nose. This may lead to skin infections, such as vestibulitis, which is when the area around the nostrils becomes infected. It is also possible to infect the hair follicles inside the nose, causing small pimples to arise, called folliculitis.
In short, picking your nose may result in acne.
In rare cases, infections that begin in the nose can spread to the brain. While this is not common, it is very dangerous and occurs when the blood vessels in the nose carry infection up to the brain.
Do you ever get nosebleeds? This may be due to picking your nose (source). Nose bleeds are more common in children than in adults, but picking the nose breaks the blood vessels inside of the nostrils by leaving behind small cuts in the nasal passages.
Finally, nose picking can lead to septal perforation. If you consistently pick your nose, you can damage your septum, which may even result in a hole in your septum. This can have several unwanted side effects, such as the formation of a crust around the nose and a whistling sound through the nose when you breathe.
How to Stop Picking Your Nose
Is nose picking really a problem?
You first need to determine if your nose picking is truly a problem. While the occasional nose pick at home may pose no great health risks, if your nose picking is uncontrollable to the point that you do it in front of other people, you may need to work on breaking the bad habit. It is also important to consider working on breaking your habit if you are suffering from the potential side effects of nose picking mentioned above.
If you pick your nose subconsciously, that is a great sign that you have a problem. Friends may point out that you are doing it without even realizing it. In this case, it is best to try to kick the habit for social reasons if nothing else.
1. Give it the time it needs.
If you are picking your nose as an adult, you were likely doing it as a child as well, which makes this a difficult habit to break. Because you have never gone through a stage of life without picking your nose, it is instinctual at this point. Because of this, it will take time to change this habit.
According to Psychology Today, it can take well over three weeks to change a bad habit. Allow yourself that time and do not give up.
2. Record habit triggers.
The simple truth is that we are constantly exposed to cues to take specific actions all day. For example, if you smell freshly baked cookies, you are likely to have a craving for a cookie. Alternatively, if you hear your favorite song, you will probably want to get up and dance.
In order to permanently break a habit, you must know and understand your triggers. To do this, whenever you feel the urge to pick your nose, keep a record of:
- Your location: Are you always at home?
- The time.
- Your mood: Are you anxious? Tired? Bored?
- If people are around: Are you alone or in public?
- What you are in the middle of doing: Are you playing on the computer?
Not only will doing this make you more aware of when you are picking your nose, but it will also help you notice any patterns that seem to increase or decrease your habit.
3. Address possible medical aspects.
You may be surprised to know that nose picking can be a side effect of other conditions. For example, people who suffer from anxiety disorders may have compulsive nose picking problems when they get anxious (source).
Nose picking can also be a result of allergies or a dry nose, especially in children (source). Children tend to pick their noses because something doesn't feel quite right and they want to fix it right away.
When someone suffers from allergies, there is a heavy flow of mucus that turns into crusting inside of the nose. This can easily bother both children and adults, leading to them manually removing anything that is stuck. Some environmental conditions may also lead children to pick their noses, such as dry air that leads to dry nasal passages. This can make a child uncomfortable and more likely to try to soothe the inside of his nose with his fingers.
If these other medical conditions are present, address them before moving on. You may be able to treat the root of the problem rather than a symptom.
4. See what works.
Whenever you resist picking your nose, take a note of your how your mood changes afterwards to see if you still have an urge. If you still have an urge to pick your nose after you have blown it, you will know your selected method to try to stop your bad habit is not effective (source).
When you do feel the urge to pick your nose, find a substitution for that action with a new routine. While this will be difficult at first because your instincts are telling you to pick your nose, you will eventually begin to have a new routine without having to think about it.
Some ideas for alternative actions are blowing your nose, wearing a rubber band around your wrist and snapping it whenever you feel the urge to pick, or even just finding something that will occupy your fingers such as texting or emailing a friend.
Awareness and substitution are just two hacks for breaking a bad habit. Another hack is known as the "tier method" (source). Weaning yourself off of nose picking may be the best option for you. One of the most popular ways of weaning from nose picking is by consciously choosing to not pick your nose 50% of the time you feel the urge. Then, avoid picking your nose 75% of the times you get the urge. Do this until you’re not compelled to pick your nose at all and you have full control over your bad habit.
5. Get help.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, creating accountability for your actions is very effective when trying to break a bad habit. Although it might be embarrassing, confide in someone you trust with your decision to stop picking your nose (source).
Keep your confidant updated on a regular basis to help you track your progress. This will help to create a reinforcement from someone else who supports your goals. Also, because nose picking is a social embarrassment, it will be a reward to gain social approval and acceptance once you kick the habit.
Encourage your trusted friend to call you out when he or she sees you picking your nose. This will help you become aware of the issue even when you are doing it without even thinking about it.
6. Formulate a plan.
Naturally, it will take several weeks of experimentation to find the most effective replacement habit for your nose picking, but you will find success somewhere. While you are formulating your plan, create a step-by-step guide to stop picking your nose.
One part of your new routine should include thoroughly cleaning out your nose each morning and evening. Studies show that most of the people who pick their noses (65% of them, in fact) do it to unclog their nasal passages. If you clean out your nose regularly in a healthy manner, you may be far less likely to ever have the urge to pick it.
If you are still experiencing triggers that make you want to pick your nose, respond to them from a new angle. For example, if stress or anxiety is causing you to want to pick your nose, get up and take a short walk instead to see if your anxiety level goes down. The goal of doing this is to reprogram your brain to want to take a different action rather than picking your nose.
7. Use habit reminders.
There are two different types of habit reminders. One is to continuously remind yourself to refrain from picking your nose. The other is to remind yourself to live out the plan you formulated to decrease and ultimately end your nose picking. For example, put a note next to your toothbrush to remind yourself to clean out your nose whenever you clean your teeth.
8. Reward yourself.
Because changing a bad habit that is so ingrained in your brain is difficult, try to give yourself small rewards along the way for achieving your milestones. Don't make these big rewards—perhaps treat yourself to a coffee one afternoon—but make them satisfying enough that they motivate you to stop picking your nose.
Obviously, do not choose to reward yourself by actually picking your nose.
Hacks for Stopping Your Nose Picking
So you're probably wondering what you should actually do. Play around with a few of the substitutions I have mentioned and use them as individual steps to your ultimate recovery. Not every substitution will work for every person, so give each a try while you are formulating your plan of action. If you find that one is effective, continue with it and add new ones as time goes on.
Most importantly, identify and understand your triggers for picking your nose. Perhaps you tend to do it while driving or when you are bored. If so, you can make a series of “if-then" plans to change your behavior. The concept of if-then plans is to reach your goal one step at a time rather than looking at only the end result. Create mini-goals and only focus on one piece at a time.
Being aware of your triggers and having a plan in place when you feel the urge to pick your nose will significantly improve your chances of breaking the habit. Remind yourself of your habit in case you do it subconsciously by leaving reminder notes where you will see them throughout the day.
It is also simple to keep tissues on hand all the time so that if you feel like your nose is not clean, you can take care of it in a sanitary and polite way.
Another obvious hack? Just keep your hands busy. When your hands are not idle, you will not be giving yourself the opportunity to pick your nose. Find some things to keep your hands busy during times when you are most likely to pick your nose.
Do you want to hear a genius hack? Keep a Band-Aid on whichever finger you usually use to pick your nose. This Band-Aid will serve as a reminder to keep your finger away from your nose. If you can't seem to keep a Band-Aid on for long, try tying a string around that particular finger to serve as an obvious reminder. This will be even more effective when people ask you why you have a string on your finger, since admitting the truth is embarrassing.
Finally, as with many other health problems, drink more water. Drinking a lot of water will help keep your mucous membranes from becoming dry and creating a crust.
Change your thoughts.
One study that was done on the difference between habits and intentions shows that people who change their thoughts or environments are more likely to kick bad habits. While your environment may be difficult to change, try to alter your state of mind when you feel the urge to pick your nose.
Studies have shown that reading brief positive affirmations to yourself in the morning and evening can help to reinforce your habit change. Researchers have theorized that these self-affirmations make people more attentive and emotionally receptive to their errors, meaning that they are more aware of their urge to pick their nose.
One example of an affirmation is to obey the reminders you have written to yourself to clean your nose each morning and night. Another way is to just tell yourself in the mirror that you can do this, and that this habit will stop.
What is a harsher way to show yourself some tough love? Use some negative reinforcement. You can cover your hands in hot pepper juice, which will certainly keep your from putting your hands near your face. Also, if you unconsciously try to pick your nose, you will quickly remember why it was a bad idea. (Just make sure not to get your fingers near your eyes.)
Of course, it is important to replace the bad habit of picking your nose with a habit that provides you with a similar benefit (source). So, if picking your nose is something that provides you with stress relief, find another way to let off stress. Pick up a stress ball or just take a break for a short walk to relieve your stress. Whatever end goal you achieve by picking your nose, find a replacement that will not leave an unmet need in your life.
Stop your children from picking their noses.
As adults, we can easily understand the negative social impact that picking our noses in public has on our appearance to others. Adults can also choose for themselves if it is in their best interests to stop this habit. However, children are not able to fully understand how picking their noses in public can make them seem to others.
It turns out that children between the ages of five and eight commonly pick their noses in public without thinking twice about it. While this is normal, parents are likely to want some guidance on how to stop their children's poor habits.
While parents can take some of the same initiatives for their children as they would do for themselves (such as putting Band-Aids on their fingers or keeping their noses clean throughout the day), they can't always be around their children to monitor the situation.
The good news? Children often grow out of picking their noses. Children are often fascinated with the texture and feel of the dried mucus that comes from their noses, and they enjoy playing with it. As with other toys adults played with during childhood, the allure of this wears off eventually, which leads to a child outgrowing this habit.
Remember, consider that there may be underlying medical causes to your child picking his or her nose. Rule out allergies or nervous ticks to make sure that you are only dealing with normal childhood behavior.
There are some great methods out there to stop your children from picking their noses if it is just a bad habit. In the most extreme circumstances, nose picking can lead to an obsessive compulsive disorder in adulthood that is known as rhinotillexomania.
Unlike other childhood habits, you can't always ignore it and wait for it to stop. Here are some tips to stop your children from picking their noses:
Use scare tactics.
Scare tactics are quite effective with children. For example, if you tell your children that picking their noses will result in getting worms, they are highly likely to stay away from the habit. Other common scare tactics to use on children who pick their noses are “Did you know if you dig in your nose, your finger will fall off?” or “There's a monster in your nose that will eat your entire hand!” (source).
Hand them a tissue.
Nip the bad habit by simply handing a tissue to your child. This will eventually send the hint of what the correct way to deal with a dirty nose is. You may have to add some words such as “blow your nose” as you give them a tissue, but after some time, they will get sick of you giving them tissues and stop picking their noses. If you choose this route, make sure to always have tissues on hand.
Remove their hands from their noses.
Sometimes it is important to just physically remove your children's hands from their noses and tell them "no." The act of physically moving their body will help them remember that this is not something they should be doing. Hopefully after doing this only a few times, your children will understand that they should not be picking their noses.
So what does this all mean? Essentially, nose picking may be a habit that you need to break, and it may not be. It depends on the effect it tends to have on your health and life. If it is a compulsive habit that you cannot control, leading to embarrassment in public, it is likely best to get a handle on it.
Recognize what triggers your actions and try to intervene ahead of time. Replace the habit of picking your nose with something that provides you with an equal amount of satisfaction so you won't be left still wanting to pick your nose. Also, work on correcting this habit in children before they grow up with a habit that is difficult to break.
While in rare instances picking your nose can result in serious health issues, it is typically relatively safe for adults. The issue really comes if you tend to do it in public or you do it all day, causing harm to the inside of your nose. If this is the case, follow some of these tips to try to stop the habit.
Do you have experience with kicking a nose-picking habit? Share your experience with the other readers so they can learn what worked for you and what didn't.
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