The first time I really heard how touching your face was the best way to get sick around other people, I was in a movie theater watching Contagion (starring Kate Winslet and Matt Damon). Kate Winslet’s character works for the CDC and spouts off some statistic about how many times per day the average person touches their face.
No way, I thought…but for the rest of the day, I caught myself touching my face.
Now, of course, we have all heard this advice from the real life CDC: stop touching your face, stay healthy.
If you, like me, found this nigh impossible to do, even knowing what you now know, you’re probably wondering why face-touching is such a habit that no one even notices how often they do it?
Well, it turns out there are real reasons why, so hold to your butts.
1) It’s a natural response from our bodies.
We’re hard-wired to express our emotions through our reactions, so even when we don’t want to give anything away, or we want to not say something, there’s a good chance our faces (and hands) are already saying it for us.
2) Humans use body language to communicate in every culture.
We see other people using their hands and bodies to express emotions, and humans also tend to mimic each other without thinking about it. Body language is such an effective way to tell others what we’re thinking and feeling that every culture around the globe totally relies on it.
You can see this, most clearly, in the way we can “catch” a yawn.
3) It’s a natural response to stress.
Stress is expressed and relieved through the parasympathetic nervous system, and it helps you cope in difficult times. Touching certain parts of your face can activate it, and touching it is a reflex and provides comfort.
Jerry Seinfeld does a great and extremely true bit on how, the worse a relationship is going, the higher we touch our face when we talk about it.
4) We use body language to flirt.
During normal activities we touch our faces up to 23x per hour, but when you’re flirting, or in another emotional situation, that number goes up exponentially. You might find that you’re particularly likely to touch your face or lips; it’s a super common trait among human beings.
So… how to change your behavior?
First of all, recognize and accept that you won’t be able to stop touching your face entirely – it’s just something that makes you human. What you can do is try to avoid touching your face in public, or in places where you’re not able to keep your hands reasonably free of bacteria and virus.
If you’ve got a lot of stress, look for other ways to reduce and channel it, so your need to rub it out of your face decreases.
And remember, it takes over 60 days to form a new habit, too, so be kind to yourself, be patient, and know that you’ll have some steps backward before you really get into a groove.