Anxiety Management Strategies to Stop Pinching My Ear Lobe

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Reader’s Question

I have an unusual behavior that concerns me. I frequently squish my ear lobe in between my index finger and thumb. I think I do this to relieve anxiety, and I’ve been doing it since I was in the first grade.

I’m 23 years old now, and I don’t want to do it anymore. Over the course of time, this habit has left my ear lobe looking a little disfigured. The problem is, I wonder if it might be more than just a bad habit. When I was in 5th grade, I got into a fight with another student. My Mom freaked out and took me to a bunch of different psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors. Some of them said I was completely normal while others said I had Asperger’s Syndrome.

Is there anything I can do on my own to try to stop this behavior? Perhaps I could start taking deep breaths or something else to relax instead. I don’t know.

Psychologist’s Reply

It would be extremely difficult to assess with any accuracy whether this behavior that concerns you is simply a nervous habit or symptomatic in some way of another, more complicated issue. But you seem to have some insight already that this behavior serves a functional role to relieve anxiety. That being the case, there are several things you can do to reduce any pressure you might feel to continue the behavior.

Learning anxiety management skill primarily involves three things:

Learning to identify and effectively manage the precursors of anxiety.
Although anxiety can sometime appear to come “out of the blue,” most often stress mounts as we allow our responses to situations and our interpretations of events fuel anxiety. The more we take preventative steps to keep our stress levels in check, the less likely we are to experience bouts of heightened anxiety.
Avoiding fueling vicious cycles.
Anxiety often feeds on itself. When we’re anxious, we become uncomfortable and unnerved. It’s also natural to make interpretations that our symptoms necessarily signal danger, which only serves to heighten our anxiety level. Once we come to believe that our anxious feelings and sensations are transitory and harmless, it’s much easier to prevent anxiety from spiraling out of control.
Replacing less than optimal responses to anxiety with effective coping responses.
Many former anxiety sufferers report that once they took notice of the earliest signs they were becoming anxious and began using coping responses such as breath control, meditation, changing cognitions, etc., they were able to achieve a more relaxed, calm state in relatively short order. Over time, effective coping responses can become a more potent substitute for undesirable habits that formerly relieved anxiety.

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It’s probably best to consult with a professional about your concerns and to get an accurate assessment about what might be going on. But even in the absence of that, you can utilize the general strategies above to more effectively manage anxiety. And, if your ear lobe pinching habit has been primarily a way for you to relieve anxiety, once you have become more proficient in the use more effective coping skills, you should experience less pressure to engage in the habit.

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