Skin Picking and Coronavirus: How To Curb Your Anxiety

by Emma Michelle Williams

As cases of the novel coronavirus infection, COVID-19 increase across the UK, many people are unsurprisingly experiencing increased levels of anxiety. For those who live with mental health conditions such as Dermatillomania, a psychological condition that manifests as repetitive, compulsive skin picking, the recent advice against touching your face can feel paralysing. 

Dermatillomania or excoriation disorder is a skin picking disorder where a person cannot stop picking their skin. For the average person, touching your face is a common habit with most people doing it all of the time without even realising. APIC estimated in a 2015 study that the average person touches their face around 23 times per day. However, those living with compulsive skin picking will likely far exceed this, especially during a flare-up.

So what do you do when the World Health Organisation and the worlds media are constantly telling us to stop touching our faces? 

Don’t panic! I know right, it’s almost as useless as hearing ‘stop picking’ from a loved one, but there are some ways we can take better care of ourselves during this global outbreak. 

Practice Self-Compassion and Cut Yourself Some Slack

If the health officials telling us to stop touching our faces are struggling to stop touching their faces, it’s going to be a lot harder for someone who is living with a compulsive disorder like Dermatillomania. Recognise that if you are anxious about the Coronavirus, you are not alone and your reaction is completely normal. Be compassionate with yourself.

Trying to be perfect and never touch your face ever again is not only unrealistic but near impossible to achieve in one sitting. Adopting the perfectionist mindset will likely add to the anxiety and stress you already feel. Do what you can to help eliminate the need to touch or pick your face but always remind yourself that trying your best, is enough.

If you feel you need additional support during this time, make sure you reach out to a professional like your GP, a local therapist or support group (URL or IRL).

Cut back on Constantly Checking the News

It’s really tempting to check the news for updates on the virus but its also really important to restrict your news intake in order to combat compulsive news checking. 

Try to create a window for yourself at the same time each day where you allow yourself to mindfully check the news. Restrict the amount of time you allow yourself to do this. 

Keep a Box of Tissues Handy

It’s REALLY unlikely that people who struggle with skin-picking are going to be able to suddenly fight against their compulsions because of Coronavirus. Unhelpful headlines telling us not to touch our faces further intensify the shame we already experience around skin picking.

Despite my families disbelief, I am still unable to fight my desire to touch or pick my face. Yes, not even Coronavirus can stop me. Having a box of tissues to hand is one way we can reduce the risks. Use a tissue to pick or touch your face. It’s not ideal and it may not work for everyone but it sure is worth a try. Although harmful habits are hard to shift we can slowly replace them by introducing new, healthier alternatives. You never know, this could be a positive step for your overall recovery. 

Use a Scented Hand Moisturiser 

Sometimes the smell of something strong can stop us in our tracks. One of my favourite hacks is to use a well-scented hand lotion with a long-lasting scent. When my hands move near my face and I catch a whiff of the smell, I am instantly drawn into the present moment. Being present helps me realise that I am about to pick my face. I also don’t like the sensation of picking when I can smell something nice on my hands, for me, it just doesn’t go. Half of the battle with skin-picking is the unconscious, day-dream skin-picking. Perhaps a nicely scented hand cream will bring you into the awareness you need to stop at that moment. 

Find More Joy

Pick up an old favourite book, indulge in a Podcast or go for a quick run. Reducing your overall stress levels is a great way to spark some much-needed joy in our lives. Keep yourself occupied by doing the things you love. Joy is an essential tool for coping with stress, it’s also a great way to build resilience. Don’t wait until the stress and panic have passed to enjoy yourself again, spark joy during this stressful time by doing something you love. 

Overall, if fighting the urge to touch or pick your face feels impossible just make sure you maintain good hygiene by washing your hands regularly. This will help to keep you and those around you safe. Remember, you can only do your best and right now, your best is enough.

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