By: Dan Matthews, guest writer
Body-focused repetitive behaviors, or BFRBs, such as uncontrollable, habitual, and often damaging, hair pulling, skin chewing and picking, and nail biting, affect an estimated 1 in 20 people in the United States. But if you’re among those 1 in 20, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone. If you have BFRB, then you know it’s much more than a bad habit that you can simply stop with a bit of willpower.
And while, yes, BFRB is often a response to severe and chronic stress, controlling the behavior is a lot more complex than just taking a spa day or lighting a soothing lavender candle. Above all, the risks of not taking control of your stress are not only that your BFRB will worsen, but also that you’re exposing yourself to even more serious consequences, such as the development of high blood pressure and vein disease.
Managing your BFRB requires a strategic, comprehensive, and focused plan for self-care. It’s about knowing your disorder and, above all, about knowing yourself and what you need to control your BFRB, quiet your urges, and live the life of peace and joy that you deserve.
Learning Your Triggers
BFRBs can affect anyone at any age. Even infants and toddlers can experience BFRBs, as self-soothing behaviors morph into disorders such as Baby Trich. For children under 5, repetitive hair pulling can be linked to periods of distress or anxiety in an effort to soothe stresses they can’t communicate.
For adults, the origins of BFRBs are often far more complex, and that means you’re going to need to do a bit of self-assessment to figure out what your triggers are. Conducting a functional behavior assessment can help you track your emotional and behavioral responses to particular people and contexts. Do you find that your BFRB urges are worse when you’re around certain people or in particular situations? Do you find yourself triggered when you’re feeling stressed at work or when you’re sitting bored in front of the television at night?
Understanding your particular patterns is often the first step in figuring out a management strategy that will work for you. Awareness of your triggers, of how your emotions ignite your urges, will help you be ready when the time comes. You’ll recognize when you are in greatest danger for a relapse, and you’ll have a plan to take control of your BRFB before it can take control of you.
Identifying Your Mindset
It’s easy for BFRB to take over your entire sense of identity, especially if you’ve been living with it for a while. You might begin to feel like the disorder is simply who you are, something you’ll just have to learn to live with, whether by hiding it, ignoring it, or facing it head-on. The simple fact is that your mindset is going to make a huge difference in how you manage your urges and control your stress responses.
If you simply try to hide, ignore, or if you let it become who you are, then you’re probably not going to have the motivation you need to make a positive change. But if you embrace a growth mindset, one that says that change in your life really is possible, that you, not your disorder, are in control of your life, then sooner or later you will be. We are, in the end, who we believe ourselves to be. This, again, means believing that it is worthwhile to understand your triggers and be proactive in managing your stress; it means truly believing that these acts of self-care will help you control your disorder.
Find Your Replacement Behavior
Probably the greatest weapon you will ever find to help you score your victory of BFRB will be your replacement behavior. As we’ve seen, BFRB is almost always a complex response to significant and/or on-going stress. So you will need a replacement behavior that helps you channel that stress in a non-harmful way.
What that behavior—or behaviors—will be, exactly, depends on you and what you need at the moment. All that matters is that your replacement behavior works in helping you manage stress and practice self-care. This can be anything from taking a brisk walk or going for a bike ride to practicing some deep breathing or getting some sleep. Above all, it’s about channeling those harmful urges into healthy, self-nurturing habits, it’s about giving your body, mind, and spirit what they need. It’s about understanding yourself and putting yourself, at last, on your own priorities list.
BFRB is a heartless beast. It seeks to devour hearts and minds, body and spirit. But you don’t have to be its prey. As strong as it is, you are stronger. You can’t fight, though, if you don’t have the proper battle weapons. That includes ensuring that you understand your triggers and your needs. It means adopting the growth mindset, the conviction that you truly can change your life. It means learning to put yourself at the top of your to-do list. And it means finding those replacement behaviors that help you practice the self-care that you need and deserve. It means nourishing and nurturing your own needs. It means practicing the behaviors that contribute to the happy and healthy life you deserve and, above all, it’s about never forgetting that you deserve it.
About the Author:
Daniel Matthews is a writer from Boise, Idaho. In 2006 he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in English with a Creative Writing Emphasis from Boise State University. In 2014, he became a Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner (CPRP). As a CPRP, Daniel has extensive experience working with people in the community to help them apply the skills they're learning in therapy to their everyday lives. In other words, he helps people achieve their goals and experience mental wellness. You can find more of his work by visiting his Twitter.