ATLANTA,Ga. - They're little quirks that calm us: we bite our nails, crack our knuckles, fidget with our cell phones when we should be listening. Emory/Grady psychologist Dr. Nadine Kaslow says these nervous habits are really common.
"The truth is we all have habits we do that, if we think about it, we wish we didn't do so much," says Dr. Kaslow. "Because everybody gets stressed out."
Dr. Kaslow says most nervous habits are a little annoying to those around us, but not really a big deal. That is until they become one, and start causing friction in relationships, or negatively affecting how we feel about ourselves.
"The problem is people who do it, it can become really extreme," she says. "So, for example, they bite their nails and their nails can get all cracked and red and there's no nail left."
And the more you do something, the harder it is to stop it. So, how do you break a nervous habit? Dr. Kaslow says it may be harder than you think.
"There's some evidence it can take from almost a week to break a nervous habit to almost a year, it's just really trying hard to break it," she says.
The first step is to become more aware of what you're doing -- and to want to stop.
"Another thing to do is to figure out what are the situations that are stressing you out, that make you do your nervous habit, and try to figure out solutions to that stress," Kaslow says.
So, when you catch yourself picking up your cell phone or cracking your knuckles, stop, Redirect your attention to something else. Or, better yet, Dr. Kaslow says, do the opposite.
"So, say you're a nail-biter. Maybe you would go and have a weekly manicure. So you're focused on your nails still, but on keeping them nice," she says.
And if you can resist that urge to give in to your anxious urge, pat yourself on the back with a little reward.
"If I don't do it for a day, then I get this reward. If it goes on for a week, I get this reward, Dr. Kaslow says. "Some bigger kind of reward."