How to Stop Touching Your Face to Minimize Spread of Coronavirus and Other Germs
By Stephen D. Benning, Brian Labus and Kimberly A. Barchard
Public health officials consistently promote hand-washing as a way for people to protect themselves from the COVID-19 coronavirus. However, this virus can live on metal and plastic for days, so simply adjusting your eyeglasses with unwashed hands may be enough to infect yourself. Thus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have been telling people to stop touching their faces.
We are experts in psychological science and public health. Brian Labus is an expert in communicable diseases who knows what people should do to avoid becoming infected. Stephen Benning is a clinical psychologist who helps clients change their habits and manage stress in healthy ways. Kimberly Barchard is an expert in research methods who wanted to know what the research says about face-touching. Together, we used our clinical expertise and the research literature to identify the best practices to reduce face-touching and lower people's chances of catching COVID-19.
People touch their faces frequently. They wipe their eyes, scratch their noses, bite their nails and twirl their mustaches. People touch their faces more when they are anxious, embarrassed or stressed, but also when they aren't feeling anything at all. Studies show that students, office workers, medical personnel and people on trains touch their faces between nine and 23 times per hour, on average.
Why is it so hard to stop? Face-touching rewards us by relieving momentary discomforts like itches and muscle tension. These discomforts usually pass within a minute, but face-touching provides immediate relief that eventually makes it a habitual response that resists change.
Stop touching your face, Uncle Bill! Do you want to get coronavirus? Brian Keith was always touching his face to sh… https://t.co/sHAxV0KneI— Michael's TV Tray (@Michael's TV Tray)1583610018.0
Change Habitual Behaviors
Habit reversal training is a well-established behavior modification technique that helps people stop a variety of seemingly automatic behaviors, such as nervous tics, nail-biting and stuttering. It trains people to notice the discomfort that prompts their habits, select another behavior to use until the discomfort passes and change their surroundings to lessen their discomfort.
You may have already changed some of your other habits — for example, by coughing into your elbow instead of your hands, or greeting others with a bow or wave instead of a handshake. But unlike coughing and hand-shaking, people frequently touch their faces without being aware of doing so. So the first step in reducing face-touching is becoming aware of it.
Each time you touch your face, notice how you touched your face, the urge or sensation that preceded it and the situation you were in — what you were doing, where you were physically or what you were feeling emotionally. If you usually don't notice when you touch your face, you can ask someone else to point it out.
Self-monitoring is more effective when people create a physical record. You can create a log where you briefly describe each instance of face-touching. For example, log entries might say:
• Scratched nose with finger, felt itch, while at my desk
• Fiddled with eyeglasses, hands tingled, frustrated
• Rested chin on palm, neck sore, while reading
• Bit fingernail, nail caught on pants, watching TV
Self-monitoring is more effective if people share their outcomes publicly, so consider sharing your results with friends or post it on social media.
Create New Responses
Now that you are aware of the behavior you want to change, you can replace it with a competing response that opposes the muscle movements needed to touch your face. When you feel the urge to touch your face, you can clench your fists, sit on your hands, press your palms onto the tops of your thighs or stretch your arms straight down at your sides. This competing response should be inconspicuous and use a position that can be held for at least a minute. Use the competing response for as long as the urge to touch your face persists.
Some sources recommend object manipulation, in which you occupy your hands with something else. You can rub your fingertips, fiddle with a pen or squeeze a stress ball. The activity shouldn't involve touching any part of your head. For tough-to-break habits, object manipulation isn't as effective as competing responses, perhaps because people tend to play with objects when bored, but touch their faces and hair when anxious.
Learn more about breaking the itch-scratch cycle.
Manage Your Triggers
Changing your environment can reduce your urges to touch your face and your need to use alternative responses. Use your log to figure out what situations or emotions are associated with your face-touching. For example:
• If your glasses keep slipping off your nose, you can use ear hooks or hair ties to prevent slippage.
• If you bite your nails, you can use a file to keep your nails short, or wear gloves or fingertip bandages, so that nail-biting is impossible.
• If allergies make your eyes or skin itch or make your nose run, you can limit your exposure to allergens or take antihistamines.
• If you get food stuck between your teeth, you can brush your teeth after each meal.
• If your hair gets in your eyes and mouth, you can use an elastic, scarf or hair product to keep it back.
You can read more detailed information about habit reversal training.
Face It, You May Not Be Able to Stop
Most people cannot entirely eliminate unwanted habits, but they can reduce them. Consistent with the principles of harm reduction, just reducing face-touching lessens the opportunities for viruses to enter your system.
Sometimes you need to touch your face: flossing your teeth, putting in contact lenses, wiping food off your lips, putting on makeup or shaving your jaw. Remember to wash your hands first. To adjust your glasses without first washing your hands, use a tissue and throw it out immediately after use. Avoid finger food and using unwashed hands to put food into your mouth. Wash your hands first, or use utensils or the wrapper to handle the food.
Other ways you can reduce the spread of infectious diseases include practicing social spacing, washing hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitizer and disinfecting high-touch surfaces regularly. When your hands touch contaminated surfaces, though, the suggestions above may help you avoid touching your face before you wash them again.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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