Understanding body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) can be a challenge. However, people can manage many of the symptoms and behaviors on their own.

Understanding body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) can be a challenge. These emotional behavior patterns can feel overwhelming to the individual experiencing them. However, people can manage many of the symptoms and behaviors on their own. Healthy and effective strategies like the ones listed below can form the foundation of an effective daily management plan:

1. Become an Expert on BFRBs

Emotional struggles often seem worse when a person doesn’t understand what’s happening. Gaining knowledge can be an empowering experience. Having a better understanding of BFRBs can improve a person’s ability to prevent and manage their symptoms.

2. Recognize Triggers

Trigger recognition is a useful strategy for managing body-focused repetitive behaviors. Become familiar with regular triggers and try to avoid them when possible. It may not be realistic for a person to avoid all triggers for their behaviors. However, people can manage these moments better if they are aware of their triggers.

3. Keep Hands Busy

Many people with BFRBs occupy their hands with something safe. This activity helps them avoid picking at skin, nails or other body parts. Fidgeting can help change harmful behavior patterns while still providing a distraction for a person’s hands. Some small objects that can distract fidgety fingertips include:

  • Silly putty
  • Fidget spinners
  • Rubik’s cubes
  • Squishy stress balls
  • Sticky tacks
  • Fidget cubes

4. Cover Mirrors

Sometimes a person with a BFRB can be emotionally stimulated by seeing themselves in the mirror. If a person sees scabs or bald patches on their scalp, emotions can rise. These emotions may start a cycle that leads to picking or pulling behaviors. Covering and avoiding mirrors can lessen the chance that a person will notice their reflection, make a person’s environment less visually triggering and increase their sense of control.

5. Practice a Positive Skin Care Routine

Many people who pick or pull at their skin feel a sense of shame about their body. When a person creates a healthy skincare routine, the new behaviors affect the person’s emotions as well. Instead of feeling embarrassed and ashamed, the person can start feeling positive about their new self-care habit. While the individual still touches skin regularly, they do so with a different intent. Skin improvement becomes a noticeable positive outcome. This habit helps reinforce other healthy behaviors over time.

6. Implement Stimulus Control

Some people with BFRBs find ways to block or interrupt their unhealthy behaviors. A person who pulls hair may wear a hat to reduce access to their scalp. Hair pulling is also harder to do without tweezers, so some individuals get rid of this tool. Gloves can help a person who picks their skin. Applying lotion to the fingertips can make picking or pulling at the skin there more difficult.

7. Channel Energy into Something Positive

People with body-focused repetitive behaviors expend a significant amount of effort into picking and pulling behaviors. Directing this energy into a hobby or other positive outlet can provide mental and physical stimulation that decreases BFRBs. Some may find yoga and exercise to be particularly beneficial. According to a research article in the scientific journal Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, yoga and exercise are known to improve mood. Other options include reading, crafts, cooking, playing music and painting.

8. Track Progress

Sometimes a person needs a visual track record of their progress to feel more self-assured. Tracking apps and journals can help people with BFRBs record their daily activities. Coach.me is a highly rated option for a habit tracker app, and paper bound journals are easy to find and affordable. By keeping a record of the ups and the downs, a person can more easily see what helps and what triggers them.

9. Join a Support Group

People with BFRB disorders commonly feel a sense of isolation. Support groups can provide a much-needed sense of connection and empathy. Hearing the perspectives of others and sharing their own can be healing and encouraging, and remind people that they aren’t alone in their struggles.

Many densely populated areas have groups that meet in person. There are also virtual support groups and chat rooms available for people who cannot meet in person or prefer more privacy, including:

  • Trichotillomania Support: Includes a wealth of information about trichotillomania, a forum and one-on-one support
  • International OCD Foundation: Provides online resources including therapists, support groups and educational resources

10. Get Professional Treatment

Treatment for body-focused repetitive behaviors can be life-changing. While self-management tips can be helpful for many, treatment is often needed to build a healthy foundation. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common approach. Medications are sometimes used in combination with therapy, but there is currently no drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat these behaviors.

Some people struggle with body-focused repetitive behaviors and a substance use disorder. If you or a loved one need help with co-occurring disorders like these, call today and get help. Contact our representatives at The Recovery Village and speak to our caring staff. They can answer questions and get you or a loved one the help they need.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Erika Krull, LMHP
Erika Krull has a master’s degree in mental health counseling and has been a freelance writer since 2006. Read more

Coach.me. “A home for ambitious people.” (n.d.) Accessed March 23, 2019.

IOCDF.org. “International OCD foundation.” (n.d.) Accessed March 23, 2019.

Torales J, Barrios I, Villalba J.  “Alternative therapies for excoriation (s[…]rder: A brief update.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2017. Accessed March 23, 2019.

Trichotillomania.co.uk. “Trichotillomania support.” March, 2019. Accessed March 23, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.