Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours: Is Nail Biting a Disorder?

Have you ever caught yourself biting your nails, pulling out your hair, or picking at your skin? You might have a Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour (BFRB)! BFRBs are a group of conditions that involve repeated, uncontrollable behaviours that cause damage to a person’s body. BFRBs can be difficult to manage and can have a significant impact on a person’s mental and physical well-being. However, with the right treatment, individuals with BFRBs can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

The exact causes of BFRBs are not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. For example, individuals who have a family history of anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders may be more prone to developing BFRBs. Additionally, stress, trauma, and other emotional factors can trigger or exacerbate BFRB symptoms.

Treatment for BFRBs typically involves a combination of therapy, medication, and self-help strategies. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a common form of therapy used to treat BFRBs. CBT can help individuals identify the triggers and underlying emotions that lead to their behaviours and learn new coping strategies to manage their distress. For example, individuals may learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, to help them manage stress and anxiety. They may also learn how to challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about their behaviours and develop more positive self-talk.

In addition to therapy, medication may also be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of BFRBs. For example, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used to help reduce anxiety and depression associated with BFRBs. Other medications, such as antipsychotics or mood stabilizers, may be used in more severe cases.

Self-help strategies can also be effective in managing BFRBs. For example, individuals may learn to identify triggers for their behaviours and avoid or minimize these triggers as much as possible. They may also develop alternative behaviours or distractions to replace their BFRBs, such as squeezing a stress ball or playing with fidget toys. Additionally, support groups and online communities can provide individuals with BFRBs with a safe and supportive space to connect with others who understand what they are going through.

In the meantime, you can start managing your BFRB by trying some of the following strategies:

  • Identify triggers: Keep a journal to identify the triggers that lead to BFRB behaviours. It can help you identify patterns in your behaviour and develop strategies to manage your triggers.
  • Replace the behaviour: Find an alternative behaviour to replace the BFRB, such as playing with a stress ball or a fidget toy. You can also try to keep your hands busy with knitting or crocheting.
  • Mindfulness techniques: Practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation and deep breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for BFRBs.
  • Physical exercise: Regular exercise can help reduce stress, improve your mood, and increase your focus, which can help reduce BFRBs.
  • Relaxation techniques: Incorporating relaxation techniques such as yoga, massage, or taking a warm bath can help you relax and reduce stress levels.
  • Cognitive-behavioural therapy: Seeking professional help from a therapist trained in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can be helpful in managing BFRBs. CBT can help identify the thoughts and feelings that trigger BFRBs and teach coping strategies to manage them.
  • Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions that contribute to BFRBs.

So, while BFRBs can be difficult to manage and can have a significant impact on a person’s mental and physical well-being, individuals with BFRBs can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life with the right treatment. The OCD Clinic has helped countless people struggling with BFRBs to reclaim control over their lives. Please contact the clinic if you want to explore this further.

Blog post written by Sally Youdale, Clinical Psychology Registrar at The OCD Clinic. If you have questions about psychological therapy please contact our intake team:


1180 700 OCD Clinic Brisbane
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