Nervous Habits that Harm your Health

Woman biting her nails

Everyone has a bad habit or two that you may take for granted. Nervous energy, a tic that's become ingrained--what's a little nail biting or hair twirling in the grand scheme of your health?

Well, think again. Some of these habits can spell some serious problems for your health and may be things you want to put a halt to. Here, 5 bad habits you may engage in and why you need to put the kibosh on them:

Jiggling your Leg

Many people chronically jiggle a leg or foot while at rest, especially if they’re nervous, or under stress, the way you are while taking an exam, for instance. While it can be a simple sign of anxiety or nervous energy, it can also be a symptom of more serious issues. “You should be evaluated by a physician. You might have a neurological disorder such as Huntington’s disease, myoclonus (involuntary muscle jerking), periodic limb movement disorder, or restless legs syndrome,” says Dr. Michio Abe an internist in Victorville, Calif.1

What’s more, twitching or shaking of limbs is a common early sign of Parkinson’s disease, for instance. And people who have the disorder restless legs syndrome have to move because they have an awful brain-freeze, pins and needles feeling in their legs only relieved by the jiggling.2

If you do it more often than normal, it might be a minor neurological issue or even part of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), a brain and behavioral disorder that causes anxiety and interferes with normal activities. People with certain neurological conditions often perform repetitive motions. Talk to your doctor about it if you’re concerned there may be more to your jiggling.

Holding Urine in

We all know the people who practically dance around doing a jig before they visit the restroom. What gives? You may think this is a harmless habit of being too busy to be bothered making time to pee, but repeatedly or chronically holding it might increase your risk for urinary tract infections or even incontinence, says Dr. Doug Hansen, medical director at Altitude Family and Internal Medicine in Denver and assistant professor of family medicine at University of Colorado.3

The bladder works like a rubber band. Continually stretch it by holding it in and it eventually won’t spring back to shape. When that happens it won’t empty completely and remaining urine gets trapped. Get one or two UTIs and you’ll realize this is a ridiculously hurtful habit. The fix: Get thee to the restroom pronto.4

Chewing Gum

People who chew all ten fingernails or chew gum constantly have a lot of work going on with their mouth and jaw joint. The Temporomandibular(TMJ) is not a joint that bears weight but load, explains Erik Reitter, DDS, MD, an oral maxillofacial surgeon at the Carolinas Center for Oral and Facial Surgery with offices all around Charlotte, N.C. www.mycenters.com

So when you constantly put that load on the joint not only are you utilizing the muscles which lead to muscle fatigue, inflammation, spasm and muscle pain, but you start hearing clicking, popping noises and your jaw may not open fully.

“That excessive load on the joint eventually leads to what we call the arthritic process,” says Reitter. The wear and tear is just like someone that overuses their knees running a lot. The same thing happens in the TMJ. Just like repetitive strain injury, if you chew all day, you’re firing those muscles and they can go into spasm, become inflamed, causing pain in the head and neck region and can lead to headaches where people feel like they have a vise around their head.

While an occasional gum chomping is Ok, if you’re a chronic chewer, quit. Your jaw will thank you.5

Picking Cuticles

While you may think of this as a grooming habit and simply prettying your nails, skin picking which can be compulsive is known as dermatillomania and is considered a body-focused repetitive behavior like hair pulling or picking at your pimples.6

Dr. Ted Grosbart, Ph.D., a Boston-based clinical psychologist who specializes in dermatology says there is a strong urge to pick at the skin over and over to such a degree that it does noticeable tissue damage.7 If your cuticles are often a bleeding, infected, sore mess you may have crossed over into this compulsive disorder. It’s not a bad habit or a neurosis but an actual medical condition for which you may need therapy sessions, replacement habits and a support group.8

Cracking your Neck

While cracking your neck or your knuckles, for that matter, may feel good, the jury is out on whether the practice, done either professionally by a chiropractor or by yourself at your desk is helpful or harmful. Studies show there’s no risk of arthritis, a common myth. The act of cracking joints releases gasses like nitrogen and carbon dioxide and creates that satisfying popping sound. However, when the British Medical Journal took up the debate in 2012, the naysayers said the con of neck cracking includes a rare side effect of stroke brought on by a tear to the lining of the vertebral artery, which supplies blood to the brain.9

While proponents of the cervical manipulation (fancy term for what chiropractors call the neck crack) say it can promote flexibility in the joint, hence making your neck feel better, critics argue that the risk far outweigh those benefits. Dr. Michael R. Marks, an orthopedic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Association of Orthopedic Surgery said when we talk about medical complications, they can be really small, say one percent. But if it happens to you, it's 100 percent.

For young healthy people, spinal manipulations are relatively safe since muscle, ligaments and bones are strong, but with age, blood vessels can get hard with atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and you run a risk of an artery erupting or even a bone fracturing. So you might just nix the cracking habit because after all, who wants to take that kind of chance?10

Sources not cited or linked to above:

1 Health Tap, updated 2014 https://www.healthtap.com/topics/involuntary-shaking-of-legs

2 National Parkinson’s Foundation, updated 2014 http://www.pdf.org/symptoms_primary

3,4 Phone interview with Dr. Doug Hansen, medical director Altitude Family, September 2014

5 All information on gum chewing: Phone Interview with Erik Reitter, DDS, MD, oral maxillofacial surgeon at the Carolinas Center for Oral and Facial Surgery, September 2014,

6,7 Dr. Ted Grosbart http://grossbart.com/

8 Trichotillomania Learning Center, 2009-20014 http://www.trich.org/about/skin-signs-symptoms.html

9,10 British Medical Journal, 2012 http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e3680

Successful weight loss strategies

Successful weight loss strategies

Slim-down successfully by setting realistic goals and making your weight-loss journey an enjoyable trip.

Read successful slim down
Read between the lines

Read between the lines

How you sleep, eat, and relax can impact your skin. Learn how to keep it looking youthful.

How to keep skin youthful
Celebrate 100 birthdays or more

Celebrate 100 birthdays – or more!

Yes, you can live to 100! Age healthily by eating well, exercising, and avoiding things that hurt your life expectancy.

Read live to 100