Physical Exercise is the key to health and well-being in this automated age. Without exercise in reasonable amounts, we risk becoming internet-tivo-iphone-xbox couch potatoes Exercise can also be an effective part of a treatment regimen for compulsive finger picking:
Exercise Distracts You from Your Fingers
A key tool in the “tool chest” of techniques for fighting impulse control disorder is distraction. Anything that can distract one from the impulse to pick, and instead provide productive outlet for nervous energy, is a positive step forward. But be careful not to replace your picking ritual with an obsessive-compulsive exercising ritual — this sometimes occurs (though more often to those with eating disorders).
Exercise Improves Brain Chemistry
For years scientists have known that exercise boost levels of the chemical serotonin in the brain. The benefits of balanced brain chemistry, though not completely understood, are universally believed to help reduce impulsive and obsessive behaviors like compulsive picking. In fact, the chemical change in the body that occurs with exercise has been likened to a “natural high” (e.g. “runner’s high”). Some believe that the spiritual appeal of alternative therapies like Yoga lay in the fact that their exercise routines stimulate the brain the same as any form of exercise
Exercise is Good For You!
Duh! I think we all realize that without the occasional (or preferably — frequent) healthy dose of aerobic or strengthening exercise we all become like a cooked potato — soft on the inside and outside. But it still bears repeating — its good for you! If implemented as one component of a comprehensive behavior modification or habit reversal training treatment plan, exercise will be good for your mental health and your physical health.
The most frequent casualties to a prolonged compulsive finger picking habit are the fingernails. All sorts of ugly and stinky (literally) diseases crop up in and around the fingernails once they’ve been picked to death.
Assuming that you’ve done everything you can to…
…then you can take the following concrete steps to restore the strength of your fingernails and toenails, which have been so weakened by their “long train of abuses”
- Say Goodbye to Gelatin — without going too deep into the colorful history of this particular myth, let’s just say that clever marketers from long ago made up a fun (and for them, profitable) story that eating gelatin is like eating nails — and is sure to make your weak, dry nails stronger. It won’t. So, “just say no” to gelatin supplements and Jello for desert — unless of course you just have a craving
- Keep ‘em Moist — but not saturated. Moistening the fingernails and surrounding damaged skin with olive oil is a treat for your fingers. Do it daily. On the flip side, try to avoid prolonged water exposure, as this will lead to brittle nails.
- Keep ‘em Manicured — this goes for you too, guys. In this metro-sexual age there is no shame in getting a bit pampered in the extremities — aka the fingers and toes. Keeping nails trimmed and clearing out dirt and debris lets your nails grow without a handicap. And if you’re afraid of looking like a sissy for hiring someone to do it — just do it yourself!
Fixing the problem of obsessive, compulsive and impulsive behavior is the normal focus of most treatment plans — whether natural, psychological, or pharmaceutical. What you don’t hear a lot about is accepting the problem when its too hard to fix it.
Why you may choose acceptance of compulsive picking instead of change
You may not want to change. As strange as it seems, its possible that deep down you may not care enough about your fingers or others’ perceptions of your picking to want to change your behavior. A mental health professional can help you be certain that this is not just a cop out.
How acceptance can help cure compulsive picking
As we have seen from examining the many reasons why people pick their fingers, intense emotions like shame, guilt, and even depression can result from an uncontrollable impulse to pick. The terrible thing about these emotions is that they can form a “feedback loop” of sorts:
- Bad feelings — like shame and guilt — arise about the physical side-effects of picking (such as disease)
- This in turn causes a defeated attitude to manifest
- A defeated attitude then causes you to pick more since “there’s no use”. (This itself is a sign of perfectionism).
Finding a way to accept yourself as you are — and affirm your worth even though you pick — will help you break this vicious circle of self-injury.
Some things you can do to foster acceptance
The truly “natural” way to treat a compulsive finger picking habit is to face the inner, psychological issues that more often than not cause the habit. The FingerFreak archives are packed with treatment options and plans focused on the psychological approach to healing. But still, physical-based approaches that attack inner causes of a compulsive habit can be just as potent. Naturopathy and Naturopathic Treatments are a broad category for just such a treatment type, including:
- Acupuncture — ancient, proven and effective
- Aromatherapy — get your fingers looking and smelling their best
- Relaxation Techniques — such meditation, hypnosis and the softer side of yoga
- So-called “Manual Therapies” — such as traditional massage therapy and other movement therapies (including good ‘ol exercise)
Naturopathy is unlike some other alternative therapies, such as Homeopathy, in that scientific studies are available to substantiate patients’ anecdotal claims that natural treatments work. After a long hiatus in the US, Naturopathy has risen to be a bona fide medical specialty. Studies have shown that certain nutritive therapies can address symptoms of various anxiety disorders.
This curious little chemical — Serotonin — is a naturally-synthesized molecule present in the human nervous system, as well as the odd mushroom, plant, fruit and vegetable.
Serotonin as Cure of Compulsive Picking
Serotonin is the linch-pin of several engineered antidepressant drugs, including the more famous “SSRIs” or (to be verbose about it) selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These pharmaceutical treatments for compulsive finger picking help control the sometimes uncontrollable impulse to pick the skin, fingers, hair — whatever. Simply put, when the brain is subjected to higher-than-normal doses of Serotonin mood, behavior and perception change — usually for the better. Why this is so is still a mystery.
Serotonin as Cause of Compulsive Picking
A precipitous drop in serotonin can have the opposite affect on mood as a serotonin jolt — the kind delivered by an SSRI drugs. In this case, low serotonin can be said to cause behavior such as compulsive picking. (Caveat: this “theory” is solely your author’s).
Fun Facts about Serotonin!
- Infants who have abnormal nervous systems and less control of their serotonin production (i.e. serotonergic neurons out of whack) are at greater risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Low levels of serotonin in devout religious people may be associated with intense, hallicinegenic religious experiences
- Serial killers usually have low levels of serotonin. Anger and aggression naturally dampens serotonin levels — and a serial killer is one angry fellow — so this correlation may be just incidental. But interesting nonetheless!
See the FingerFreak Support Forum!
It should be no secret to readers of FingerFreak that a good Support Group can be a great thing to help an impulsive picker pull through in their effort to quit.
- Kicking a Habit is Easier with a Group — Kicking a compulsive finger picking habit is easier with support from friends or sympathetic acquaintances. “Attaboys” and words of encouragement when, say, you go 2 days without picking — it all contribute to a “snowball effect” of success.
- Safety In Numbers — Since compulsive skin and finger picking both carry such a stigma in society, admitting to having the disorder — and openly discussing it — is easier to do to a group of people with the same problem.
- No Drugs or Doctors Required — Since most plans and advice for curing an anxiety disorder like compulsive picking involve either medications (pharmaceutical or otherwise) or treatment by a mental health professional — its refreshing to know that one can always feel better by just talking things out with peers in a controlled setting.
Live, in-person Support Groups — ala the “Twelve Step Programs” — have been popular for more than fifty years. But with the advent of the Internet, newsgroups, web forums and instant messaging have brought the concept of a “support group” to a new level. The exciting use of email and forums for journaling and eTherapy — and even this site — are making a real difference in peoples’ lives.
Of course the best Support Group to join is the FingerFreak Forum! And if that doesn’t suit you — just posting a question on where in-person groups exist in your local area will do the trick.
The ancient spiritual practice of Yoga is the number one, most popular form of alternative physical therapy in the western world — with more than 15 million people practicing Yoga daily in the US alone. Yoga routines — or asanas — are fantastic strength and flexibility builders. They also help bring peace of mind and better overall health.
Using Yoga to treat physical and mental illness dates back to its introduction to America by Swami Vivekananda in the late nineteenth century. It is now used to treat psychological stress, anxiety disorders, as well as physical ailments like heart disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Practicing Yoga to reduce compulsive finger or skin picking is a relatively new approach to treating the disorder.
How Yoga Can Reduce Your Compulsive Picking
- It Increases Mindfulness — Yoga is usually practiced with slow movements or static poses. Since emphasis is placed on focusing the mind on the body, one can emerge from Yoga practice more clear-headed and aware of all one’s movements throughout the day — especially destructive picking. Increasing awareness may particularly help those for whom boredom is a cause of picking.
- It Increases Serotonin Levels – Most of the popular antidepressant drugs (SSRIs) are based on the premise that increasing serotonin levels in the brain and nervous system contribute to treating not only depression, but also impulse control disorders like compulsive picking. Studies in India have shown that Yoga also stimulates serotonin production. The prescription: more Yoga please!
An approach very similar to the Feldenkrais Method and Trager Approach for improving movement and replacing poor habits with good ones — Alexander Technique is useful in alleviating unconscious physical stresses that contribute to poor health in a variety of ways:
- Alexander Technique provides a structured method for
- Overcoming undesired movement patterns (e.g. finger picking), and
- Consciously ingraining optimal or desired movement patterns (e.g. stillness in the hands and fingers)
- Alexander Technique has been particularly successful treating repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and elbow tendinitis — both of which can easily afflict the compulsive finger picker
- Alexander Technique is an excellent way to foster an objective view of oneself and one’s personal weaknesses. This can be very important to those whose compulsive picking habit stems from poor body self-image (body dysmorphic disorder) or shame of some sort.
Also much like Feldenkrais and Trager therapy, Alexander Technique is a relatively new habit reversal training modality grounded in empirical observations and applied using the scientific method. This is not your stereotypical touchy-feely new age self-help therapy — Alexander Technique is focused on improving movement patterns in the body, raising awareness in the mind, and providing concrete lessons for achieving definite goals in the committed student.
In the Internet Age, with the popularity of email, instant messaging and blogging — writing has once again become a major mode of inter-personal communication. Though some old fogies still lament the loss of the paper-and-pen letter writing — the fact is that the internet makes writing and collaborating easier and more seamless.
This trend is also catching on in the therapeutic treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorders such as compulsive skin and finger picking. Writing Therapy is as old as Freud — but its now undergoing a resurgence thanks to remote, over-the-internet exchanges between patients and mental health professionals.
So-called “eTherapy” is a sort of private blogging, but with a coach whose job is to provide personalized feedback to help you understand root causes of anxiety or stress that is driving you to your compulsive picking behavior.
Benefits of eTherapy over traditional psychotherapy
- Convenience — eTherapy is convenient for several reasons:
- Since eTherapy is not done in real-time it can be fit into small windows of free time in an otherwise hectic schedule
- It is convenient for disabled or elderly patients unable to travel easily
- It enables more consumer choice for patients, who are able to work with a practitioner anywhere in the world, provided they speak the same language
- Anonymity — many patients who choose eTherapy to work out their disorders would never seek out in-person treatment out of shame or simple shyness. eTherapy is anonymous and impersonal — in a good way.