Here’s a look at three common habits, including what health risks they may pose and how to get rid of the problem.
Whether triggered by boredom or anxiety, nail biting can have affects that go way beyond mere aesthetics. Touching your mouth increases your exposure to germs, making you more susceptible to whatever bug is going around. Nail biting can also lead to skin infections, although the risk is low.
How to break the habit: Practicing relaxation techniques such as breath work, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation can reduce the emotional stress that may bring on nail biting. Also, keep your nails filed and smooth, as rough edges may tempt you to bite.
Some people start slouching early in life as a result of self-consciousness, whether you’re the tallest, most buxom, or just plain shy. There’s no question that good posture helps to convey confidence, and can make you look 10 pounds lighter. Bad posture compresses the chest and inhibits proper breathing, meaning less oxygen gets delivered to the body. Slumping also strains muscles and joints in the neck and back, setting you up for localized pain. Chronic slouching can even increase your chances of osteoarthritis resulting from the breakdown of cartilage between your vertebrae.
How to break the habit: Take up yoga or working with an Alexander Technique teacher (for referrals, visit alexandertech.org) to make you more aware of your posture. For more advice, see The New Rules of Posture by Mary Bond (Healing Arts Press, 2007).
While the exact cause of the cracking sound isn’t known, it’s likely created by the release of gases (mostly carbon dioxide) present within the synovial fluid lining the joint when the joint capsule is stretched. The “pop” could be the sound of gas bubbles being rapidly released before dissolving back into the fluid. The strain placed on the ligament is probably not enough to do damage, and you won’t overextend the joint enough to cause arthritis, but habitual knuckle cracking could cause some swelling of the soft tissues surrounding the joint and eventually decrease grip strength. However, more research is needed to settle this question.
How to break the habit: To put an end to knuckle cracking, find something else to do with your hands. Possibilities include doodling, squeezing a “stress ball” or even sitting on them.