We’ve all heard it by now: the best way to avoid contracting COVID-19, known as the coronavirus, is to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer and wipes when soap isn’t available, and in general, take good care of your health.
But there’s one more crucial step in personal sanitation: we’ve got to stop touching our faces. You might think, “I don’t touch my face that often,” but how many times did you scratch an itch today? Or cross your arms? Get something out of your eye, run your fingers through your hair, or pick at something on your skin? We interact with our bodies in reflexive and subconscious ways all day long. It would be absurd to have any idea how many times you did those things, and that’s where our problem lies: we don’t know we’re doing it.
In 2015, there was a small study done involving 26 students from the University of New South Wales. In order to study their face-touching behavior, they were videotaped and observed. On average, each student touched their face a whopping 23 times per hour, with 44% of those involving contact with a mucous membrane.
It’s through that mucous membrane that germs make their way into your system. And we are touching our mucous membranes, without our being aware of it, all the time. So how do we stop?
1) Start noticing.
The first step in breaking any habit is noticing you’re doing it. For the next hour, tune in to when your hand shoots up to your face. Knowing why you have the urge will help you fight it.
2) Use psychology.
A little bit of reward or punishment can go a long way. For an example, try wearing a rubberband around your wrist, and snap it every time you touch or go to touch your face. That little snap might help us at least reduce our likelihood of reaching for our face.
3) Carry tissues, eye drops, what have you.
Sometimes, there’s just something on your face you need to deal with. Carry the supplies you need to handle it without handling it.
Meditation is a tool that helps us be more mindful. The more mindful we are, the more aware we are of our own actions. Those of you with meditation practices may already know the feeling of resisting an itch when in the middle of a meditation. This might not be the fastest way to strengthen willpower, but it does work.
5) Touch something else.
If you touch your face out of anxiety, like skin-picking or eye rubbing, try having another object on hand. A stress ball, a fidget spinner, a loose ring, anything to keep your hands busy.
6) Put up notes.
This is the kind of task Post-It Notes were made for. Leave a note for yourself on your laptop, in the kitchen, at your desk, wherever, to remind yourself that face-touching is a no-go.
7) Make it a game.
At the end of the day, COVID-19 and all coronaviruses can cause us anxiety and stress, even from the other side of the world. Challenge your friends or family to join a don’t-touch-your-face challenge, and help each other out.
Protecting yourself from the virus is also one of the best ways to protect others. Wash your hands, be thoughtful of the surfaces you touch, and if someone says you have something in your teeth, maybe leave it for the time being.