Coronavirus : we need to stop touching the face. Here’s how

Coronavirus : il faut cesser de se toucher le visage. Voici comment

March 22, 2020 4: 00

Updated 9h56


Coronavirus : we need to stop touching the face. Here’s how

Stephen Benning

Assistant professor of psychology, University of Nevada

Brian Labus

Assistant professor, epidemiology and biostatistics, University of Nevada

Kimberly A. Barchard

Adjunct professor of psychology, University of Nevada


THE SCIENCE IN HIS WORDS / The public health officials strongly encourage people to wash hands to protect against the novel coronavirus. However, this virus can survive on metal and plastic for several days, so that the simple act of adjusting his glasses with unwashed hands can be enough to infect.

This is why the Centers for disease control and prevention of diseases and the world health Organization have asked everyone to avoid touching the face.

We are specialists in the psychological sciences and public health. Brian Labus, an expert in communicable diseases, knows what he must do to avoid infections. Stephen Benning, a licensed clinical psychologist, helping his patients to change their habits and to manage their stress in a healthy way. Kimberly Barchard, a specialist in research methods, wanted to know what they say the studies on the feel of the face. We have used our clinical expertise and the scientific literature to determine what are the best practices to reduce contact with the face and thus reduce the risk of catching the COVID-19.

People often carry their hands to the face. We wipes his eyes, scratching the nose, bite nails and plays with his moustache. We tend to touch more the face when he is anxious, annoyed or stressed, but it is also when one does not feel anything in particular. Studies show that students, office workers, medical personnel, and passengers of trains touching the face in an average of 9 to 23 times per hour.

Why is it so hard to prevent them from doing so ? The touching of the face we met in the soothing of the discomfort of the moment such as itching or of tension in the muscles. These discomforts usually disappear in a minute, but it gets immediate relief by touching the face, making this a habit which it is difficult to get rid of.

To change its habits

The technique of the reversal of habits is a method of behavior modification that will help people put an end to automatic behaviours, such as tics nervous, stuttering, or the habit of nail biting. It teaches people to notice the discomfort that causes their habits, to have recourse to another behavior until the disappearance of the discomfort, and change their environment to reduce the feeling.

A lot of people have already changed some habits. Thus, it coughs into his elbow rather than the hands, and we greet people by a wave of the hand or bowing rather than shaking hands. But unlike the coughing and shaking of hands, the touching of the face is a gesture which we do not realize. The first step to reducing contact with the face, therefore, is to become aware of it.

Every time that we touch the face, you can observe how one does it, the urge or the feeling that had preceded the gesture, and the situation in which one finds oneself, in other words : what we do, where we are and the emotion that one feels. If you tend to not notice it, we can ask someone we know.

Self-monitoring is most effective when it creates a physical document. You can make a journal in which we described each contact with his face. Here’s what that might look like the entries in the log :

  • Scraped the nose with the finger, itching, sitting in my office

  • Pawed my glasses, ants in hands, feeling of frustration

  • Put chin in hand, painful neck, for reading

  • Gnawed a fingernail, fingernail hooked in pants, in front of the tv

Self-monitoring is more effective when people share their results publicly, showing by example to his friends or by posting on social media.

New gestures

Once one has become aware of the behavior that we want to change, they replaced it with a gesture incompatible with the muscle movements needed to touch the face. When we feel the desire to touch your face, you can tighten the fists, sit on his hands, pressing his palms on his thighs, or stretch the arms along his body. The action of replacement must be discreet and in the position must be held for at least one minute. We will keep it as long as the desire persists.

Coronavirus : il faut cesser de se toucher le visage. Voici comment

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Some sources recommend that the manipulation of objects, which allows to occupy his hands otherwise. You can rub the tip of your fingers, twiddle a pen or squeezing a ball anti-stress. The activity must not require contact with a part of the head. For the habits to be stubborn, the object manipulation is not as effective as the gestures alternative, may be because people tend to play with objects when they’re bored, but touching your face and hair if they are anxious.

For more information on ways to break the cycle of itch-scratch.

Manage the triggers

It is possible to reduce the cravings to touch the face and the need to have recourse to gestures alternative by changing its environment. Use your diary to determine the situations or emotions related to contacts with your face.

For example :

  • For glasses that slide on the nose, it may take hooks from ears, or rubber bands to hair to secure it in place.

  • To avoid biting your nails, it can keep its nails short by filing, or wear gloves or bandages at your fingertips.

  • If allergies are causing itching of the eyes or of the skin or a runny nose, you can limit his exposure to allergens and take antihistamines.

  • If you tend to have food stuck between the teeth, we can brush teeth after each meal.

  • If there is often hair in the eyes or mouth, you can use an elastic band, a scarf, or a hair product to hold them back.

Here you will find further information on the technique of reversal patterns.

Not always possible to stop

Most people are unable to completely eliminate the undesirable habits, but they can reduce the frequency. According to the principle of risk reduction, the less you touch the face, the more you decrease the possibilities of virus enter in our body.

It happens that we need to touch the face, whether for flossing, putting on your contact lenses, wipe the food on her lips, putting on makeup or to shave the chin. It is then necessary to wash hands well before. To adjust his glasses without first washing your hands, you can take a paper tissue that you throw immediately after use. One should avoid eating with your fingers and put food in his mouth with unwashed hands. We wash hands, or use utensils, or packaging for handling food.

It can also reduce the spread of infectious diseases by practicing social distancing, washing hands thoroughly with soap and water or hand sanitizer, and disinfecting surfaces regularly, with which it is often in contact. However, when we’re touching potentially contaminated surfaces, the above suggestions allow you to avoid touching the face before washing hands.

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This text first appeared on the website of the franco-canadian of The Conversation. Reproduced with permission.

“The science in her words” is a forum where scientists of all disciplines can take the floor, either in open letters, or excerpts from books.

Coronavirus : il faut cesser de se toucher le visage. Voici comment

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