Coronavirus: This is the reason why you cannot stop touching your face

One of the easiest ways to keep COVID-19 at bay is by avoiding touching your face. But is it really that simple? Why we're wired to touch our face, explained!

It’s fairly clear by now that touching your face is probably one of the worst things you can do in times of coronavirus. Public health officials have been repeatedly telling anyone willing to listen that putting your fingers near your mouth and eyes grants easy access. To coronavirus. Of course they know it isn’t easy for people to follow this advice. In fact they haven’t been able to follow it themselves too; several of them continued to touch their faces while making the announcement or immediately after. To be clear, it isn’t a flaw. If anything, not touching one’s face is unnatural. There’s a good possibility you’ve touched your face at least once while reading this paragraph.

You shouldn’t kick yourself. A study has revealed that an average human would touch her/his face at least once every two-and-a-half minutes. So if you haven’t already touched your face, chances are you’re an exception and not the rule. Another study, published in the journal eLife in 2015 suggested that whenever people shook hands with others of the same gender they were likely to bring their hands to their noses. This wasn’t to scratch an itch, the scientists said, but rather an unconscious attempt at testing the scents of the person or persons they’re just met.

The thing is touching one’s face is part of one’s DNA. We’re simply hardwired to do it. Foetuses in utero have been known to touch their faces too. So, really, it’s way more difficult to break a habit that can be traced to a point before you were even born. There are other reasons too for why we touch our face. “When you touch various parts of your face, you’re activating pressure points, which then activates something called the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the thing that makes us calm ourselves down,” psychologist Natasha Tiwari explained to BBC recently.

What is ironic, though, is that at a time when it’s more important than ever to not touch your face, your mind is subconsciously making your hands touch different parts of your face because that’s the only way it knows to soothe you. And so, every time you read something disturbing about coronavirus, your mind directs your hands to your face. Chances are you’re probably touching your face right now.

How to avoid touching your face?

It is almost impossible to not touch your face. As mentioned before, it’s probably not normal if you don’t touch your face. But these aren’t normal times so you will most likely have to work towards ensuring you don’t touch your face. To do this, you can start by taking out the habits that draw your hands close to your face. If you’re wearing lenses, Tiwari says, opt for glasses. Go easy on the make-up so you don’t have to touch it up throughout the day. And, she adds, “Create habits around how to use your hands.”

Which means when you’re not using your hands – like when you’re telling this story to your friend – try to keep them clasped and away from your face. If you’re sitting, rest them on your lap instead of moving them about and gesticulating. “Then, when the urge comes to pick your hands up and touch your face you will be more conscious about it,” Tiwari says.