Help! I don’t want to get sick but I just can’t stop touching my face.
Has some semblance of this thought crossed your mind lately? If so, you’re not alone. With everything going on in the world right now, some degree of hygiene hyper-vigilance is totally understandable.
To mitigate the spread of a virus like COVID-19, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend that we avoid touching our eyes, nose, and mouth (i.e., facial region) with unwashed hands. Sounds simple enough, right? Ummm… not quite!
Have you ever counted how many times your hands make contact with your face during the day? We do it a lot more often than we realize. In fact, there’s research out there that suggests humans touch their faces about 23 times an hour (on average). I’m not a math major but assuming you’re awake for 16 hours a day, 16 x 23 = a whole-lotta’ face touching! So, unless you’re washing your hands just as often as you’re touching your face, the risk for acquiring and/or spreading germs via this pathway is very real.
Thankfully, the behavioral science community has come together and compiled a fairly cogent set of evidence-based recommendations to help minimize face touching. So, what can you start doing right now to minimize touching your face with your hands?
Increase your awareness of your own face touching – perhaps you don’t touch your face 23 times per hour. Maybe you touch your face 35 times per hour! Or more! Ahh! Whatever the number is, you want to get it as close to zero as possible. Some ways to accomplish this:
Be mindful that by reducing face touching and mitigating the spread of coronavirus, you are in fact helping others. How can you accomplish this level of mindfulness throughout your day?
Do other things with your hands; ideally, things that are mutually exclusive with touching your face. You can do these things proactively (i.e., to avoid touching your face in the first place) and/or reactively (i.e., as a result of recognizing that you just touched your face). The logic here is pretty simple – if your hands are busy doing something, they’re less likely to migrate to your facial area. Some examples of things to do with your hands include:
Change postures, if you find it difficult to stop touching your face given your current postural arrangement. The idea here is to augment your position such that touching your face is less conveniently accomplished. For example:
Perhaps face touching is partially fueled by stress and, make no mistake, these are extra-stressful times. Regardless of whether you feel stress is a contributing factor to face touching, practicing relaxation techniques can be beneficial to your overall well-being. Some easy to implement and often effective relaxation techniques include:
Click here to watch a quick video on this topic. Also, the fine folks over at the Psychonomic Society have created this infographic for the public, which sums up their recommendations to reduce face touching. Click here for access to the infographic in multiple languages. They also have some handy-dandy recommendations to increase social-distancing, if you’re into that kind of thing. Hopefully, we can all help reduce the further spread of COVID-19 (and other communicable diseases) by putting these recommendations into practice and encouraging others to do so as well!