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What does tapping your face do?

Tapping your face may seem like an odd habit, but it actually serves several purposes. Face tapping can be a self-soothing technique, a nervous tic, or a way to enhance concentration. Understanding why you tap your face can help you manage this habit.

Why Do People Tap Their Faces?

There are a few common reasons why people tap or touch their faces frequently:

  • Focus – Tapping the face can help some people concentrate. The sensation keeps the mind from wandering.
  • Fidgeting – Face tapping can be a fidget or nervous habit, similar to biting nails or tapping fingers.
  • Self-soothing – The repetitive motion may be calming and self-soothing for some individuals.
  • Tics – In some cases, frequent face tapping is a facial tic that is involuntary.

Let’s explore each of these reasons in more depth.

Face Tapping for Focus

Tapping the face can help increase focus and concentration for some people. The light tapping provides sensory input that can help anchor attention. Studies show activities that involve tactile or kinesthetic input can enhance focus, especially for those with attentional challenges like ADHD.

Some common ways face tapping may help concentration include:

  • Tapping the cheeks or temples during studying or work
  • Resting the chin in the hand while tapping the cheeks or jawline
  • Drumming the fingers along the face when deep in thought

The stimulation keeps part of the brain occupied with sensation, allowing better focus on the task at hand. Face tapping provides just enough distraction to rein in wandering thoughts.

Face Tapping as a Fidget

Face tapping is also quite common as an unconscious fidget or body-focused repetitive behavior. Many people tap their faces frequently without even realizing it. Examples include:

  • Drumming fingers along the chin or lips
  • Clicking teeth or moving the jaw
  • Rubbing eyes or temples
  • Picking at lips, ears or eyebrows
  • Tugging the earlobe

These habits provide a release for nervous energy. Face tapping is a socially acceptable way of fidgeting when it’s not possible to move around. The habit may be more common among those with anxiety, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, or excess nervous energy.

Face Tapping for Self-Soothing

Many people also find tapping or touching the face to be self-soothing. Gentle face tapping stimulates the vagus nerve, which slows heart rate and relaxes the body. The skin’s tactile receptors also transmit signals that mute the brain’s threat response. As a result, repetitive face tapping can have a calming effect.

Face tapping may have a self-soothing effect by:

  • Activating vagus nerve pathways
  • Releasing calming neurotransmitters
  • Providing comforting tactile stimulation
  • Redirecting the mind from stressors

Lightly tapping the cheeks, forehead or temples releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine. The calming sensation helps reduce feelings of stress or anxiety. Face tapping can soothe infants as well – gently stroking an infant’s cheeks releases oxytocin and promotes bonding.

When Face Tapping Becomes a Tic

In some cases, frequent face tapping is a motor tic or symptom of a tic disorder such as Tourette’s syndrome. Tics are involuntary movements that can involve sounds or gestures.

Common facial tics include:

  • Blinking or eye twitching
  • Nose scrunching
  • Mouth movements like lip smacking
  • Cheek tapping or slapping
  • Frowning or raising eyebrows

These tics are repetitive and frequent, but they can be suppressed for short periods. Tic disorders tend to develop in childhood and may improve in adulthood. Tics that interfere with school, work or relationships may require treatment.

Is Frequent Face Tapping Harmful?

Occasional, light face tapping is harmless for most people. However, chronic and excessive tapping can potentially have consequences:

  • Skin irritation – Constant friction can irritate sensitive facial skin, causing redness or acne flares.
  • Pain – Forceful tapping over time may trigger headaches or facial pain.
  • Scarring – Picking at the skin can lead to scarring or dermatillomania.
  • Infection – Touching the face frequently increases infection risk, especially colds and flu.
  • Dental damage – Habitual teeth clicking/grinding wears down tooth enamel.
  • Social issues – Chronic face tapping may be viewed as odd or inappropriate.

Practicing self-awareness and moderating the force and frequency of tapping can prevent most of these issues. Seeking treatment for severe tics, skin picking, teeth grinding, or anxiety can also help.

Tips for Managing Face Tapping

If frequent face tapping interferes with your daily life, there are some ways to gain control over the habit:

  • Identify your triggers or patterns. When and why do you tap your face?
  • Find alternate ways to fidget or self-soothe when you feel the urge to tap.
  • Use biofeedback to increase awareness of the habit.
  • Try tools like fidget spinners to occupy restless hands.
  • Manage stress and anxiety through relaxation techniques.
  • Break the habit by wearing gloves or bandages as reminders.
  • Use behavioral modification strategies to reduce tapping gradually.

Seeing a therapist can also help uncover the root causes of chronic face tapping and develop strategies to stop. For severe tics or skin picking disorders, medication may be recommended in addition to therapy techniques.

When to Seek Help for Face Tapping

Occasional, light face tapping is normal, but seek professional support if:

  • It significantly interferes with work, school or relationships
  • It causes physical injury, pain or skin damage
  • You tap your face very frequently without being aware of it
  • You feel distressed or impaired by the habit
  • It is associated with an underlying disorder like OCD or Tourette’s

A psychologist can assess the cause and severity of frequent face tapping. Therapy and medication can help treat any underlying conditions fueling the behavior. For severe skin picking or facial tics, targeted treatment provides the best chance of recovery.

The Takeaway

Light, occasional face tapping is normal. But chronic, repetitive tapping may signify an underlying disorder. Seeking treatment for severe face tapping can help prevent physical and psychological consequences.

With self-awareness and the right coping strategies, you can gain control over frequent face tapping. Identifying the root causes and triggers is the first step.

Reason for Face Tapping Potential Triggers Associated Symptoms
Focus Studying, reading, lectures Poor concentration, mind wandering
Fidgeting Boredom, sitting still Anxious behaviors, restless energy
Self-soothing Stress, anxiety, overstimulation Fidgeting, avoidance, skin picking
Facial tic Anytime but worsens with stress Other body tics, obsessive tendencies

Understanding why you tap your face frequently provides clues to managing this habit. Seeking treatment for any underlying conditions can help break the repetitive cycle of tapping.


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