Sometimes, seemingly innocuous behaviors can turn into obsessions. Bad habits such as nail biting or picking at scabs can be just bad habits, or they can turn out to be psychiatric issues. Good habits that normally keep us healthy, such as bathing or hand washing, can turn out to be frustrating obsessions for some individuals. Check out this list of habits that can actually turn out to be indicators of underlying mental disorders.
- Nail Biting
While not all nail biting indicates a mental disorder, onychophagia is a body-focused repetitive behavior disorder (BFRD) involving chronic, unmanageable biting of fingernails. In these extreme cases of nail biting, the nail beds and skin around them become ragged, torn, and prone to infection. People with onychophagia may find themselves embarrassed about the appearance of their fingers, but unable to stop the biting. This may lead to feelings of shame and helplessness. Painting the nails with a bitter substance or wearing gloves may help, but severe cases may require cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Hair Pulling
Hair pulling does not refer to the class bully pulling the braids of the unwary student in the desk in front of him. Trichotillomania is a BFRD involving chronic, uncontrollable pulling out of a person’s own hair from the head, eyebrows, eyelashes, or other body areas. A person may pull the hair intentionally, for the rush of relief they feel. Others may pull out their hair without even realizing it while engaging in activities such as reading or watching a movie. The noticeable bald patches left behind can cause great embarrassment and a desire to hide the area.
- Skin Picking
Skin picking, or excoriation, is another BFRD. This disorder causes a person to pick at healthy skin, sometimes for hours at a time. This leaves behind unsightly sores that are open to infection. Individuals with excoriation disorder may try repeatedly to stop picking at their skin but find themselves unable to quit. Excoriation disorder is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and can be treated with certain antidepressants. CBT can help sufferers learn how their thoughts affect their behaviors and learn coping skills to replace destructive behaviors such as skin picking.
- Hair Cutting
Trichotemnomania is a rare disorder where the patient has an overpowering compulsion to cut or shave their hair. Sufferers of this disorder typically have high anxiety levels and turn to shaving their head or cutting off hair as a response to stress. Family members are often confused as to the sudden hair loss of loved ones as the patient may not admit to cutting the hair themselves. As with other obsessive-compulsive disorders, treatment with antidepressants or behavioral therapy can bring relief. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressants that are used to treat OCD.
- Excessive Hand Washing
While frequent hand washing is a sign of good hygiene and prevention of illness, excessive hand washing can be an indicator of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Patients with OCD become consumed with avoiding germs. They may wash their hands repeatedly and still feel great anxiety. This can lead to painful raw, red, chapped hands from extended washing. Risk factors for OCD are a family history of OCD or a new traumatic life situation. OCD can be accompanied by other mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
- Excessive Showering
While obsessive hand washing is frequently recognized as a symptom of OCD, some patients suffer from obsessive showering. As with excessive hand washing, this individual with OCD may spend hours scrubbing, long past the point of getting clean. High levels of anxiety prevent the sufferer from obtaining relief and they may feel unable to convince themselves to leave the shower. Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that can help patients react to triggers without performing obsessive behaviors.
- Obsessive Tanning
We all know the risks that having that sun-kissed glow can carry: skin cancer, wrinkles, and premature aging. It can be hard to remember to apply sun screen and it is tempting to return from vacation with golden skin. But some people can find the desire to bronze their skin overwhelming and even addicting. Sunshine actually causes our bodies to release endorphins, which is why being out in the sun can feel so good.
A study at Georgetown University showed that UV light from tanning beds also causes the body to release powerful endorphins, which can be addicting in some people.
- Extreme Plastic Surgery
We are blessed with many tools to aid in the pursuit of retaining a youthful appearance. For some who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), it can be hard to know when to stop.
BDD is a disorder characterized by an overwhelming obsession with one’s appearance, to the point that it consumes them. A person may become consumed with dissatisfaction with their nose, skin, chest, or other areas. A slight flaw becomes magnified in their mind. Signs of BDD are excessive grooming, excessive surgery, avoidance of or preoccupation with mirrors, and camouflaging or hiding perceived body imperfections. As with other types of OCD, antidepressants or CBT can help.