If you have one handy, you could always play with a fidget spinner or another little toy that keeps your hands busy and wait until the urge to pick goes down, Nathan Peterson, LCSW, a therapist specializing in obsessive-compulsive disorders and BFRBs, tells SELF. (Bonus tip: To avoid messing with your skin, finding a fidget toy that feels a bit bumpy might help simulate the rough patches you tend to seek out, says Peterson.)Twirling your pen between your fingers or even just lightly stroking your sweater’s fuzzy fabric can help. You’re not distracting yourself—you’re finding another solution and choosing to sit with the feeling while you’re waiting for the desire to pick to dissipate, Peterson says.
2. Tell yourself you’ll put off the picking until later.
When you get the urge to pick, delay it for another time. By putting the picking off, you’ll get the chance to pause and think about whether you really need to pick or not, says Dr. Piacentini. In other words, you’re buying yourself some time and giving yourself an opportunity not to pick. In this window, you can choose to stop picking—at least for a little while. After the time you set passes—let’s say you tell yourself in the morning that you’ll pick in the evening—you might not even want to pick at all, Dr. Moritz says.
Anecdotally speaking: I’ve found this technique useful whenever I realize I’m nibbling on my cuticles. For instance, I’ll give myself permission to bite them in 20 minutes. The next thing I knew, an hour had passed, and I didn’t even think to gnaw at my skin.
3. Remind yourself why you want to stop picking.
If you do start picking, think of your reasons for wanting to break the habit in order to help you stop, says Dr. Piacentini. For instance, I told myself that I no longer wanted to be self-conscious about shaking hands with people I’d just met, and that kept me motivated to curb my picking. If skin picking is really starting to affect your life—say, you don’t want anyone to see your hands because they’re peeling—you can remind yourself that the goal is not having to worry about who’s going to notice and to feel more at ease as a result.
This is a very tough habit to break, so don’t be too self-critical, says Peterson—instead, these redirections “are helpful to remind the person that they are stronger than the urges,” he says. And you are! Make a list of all the ways in which you know you’re strong. (Bonus: Writing this down will keep your hands busy.) What are you really good at? Do people think you’re a great listener? Are you the person your friends always go to in a crisis? Reminding yourself that you’re strong might give you a mental boost to help you stop picking, too! Thinking about this long-term can help you regain perspective about not picking in the moment.
I still pick at my skin every now and then—especially when I start stressing out about my finances (student loan payments are really kicking my butt right now!) or dwell on a silly argument with my sister. When I notice I’m pawing at myself, I quickly squeeze my hand into a fist or skip to a different song on my Spotify playlist—anything that blocks me from picking. There are a million other things to do with your hands—and with a little focus and effort, you’ll find what works for you, too.