The struggle is real.

By Meghan Overdeep
March 08, 2020
Woman Touching Face
Credit: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

With the deadly coronavirus outbreak in full swing, experts are urging people to do two simple things to avoid contracting COVID-19: wash your hands and don’t touch your face.

But, as it turns out, those habit-changing directives aren’t exactly elementary.

While there’s the “Happy Birthday” trick for making sure we’re washing our hands for the required 20 seconds, when it comes to stopping ourselves from mindlessly touching our faces a million times a day, most of us are at a loss. It’s hard!

You’re not alone. A small 2015 study found that on average, people touch their face 23 times in one hour, with a frightening 44% of those contacts involving a mucous membrane, i.e. your nose, eyes, and mouth. Yikes!

To help people cut back on their face-touching, HuffPost recently spoke to a variety of experts to identify some useful techniques.

The first step is awareness. By identifying your triggers—feelings of stress, anxiety, excitement, etc.—you can more effectively put a stop to the face-touching behaviors they elicit.

“It is key to spend a day noting time and place for your touching your face,” Paul DePompo, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Institute of Southern California, told HuffPost. “This may be when you are reading, driving, zoning out, under stress, etc.”

From there, work on touching something else instead of your face. Consider having things like fidget spinners, small plush toys, and other “squeezy” objects within reach in places where you do your face-touching.

“If you typically lean your face on your hand, try to develop the habit of holding something in your hand―such as a ‘worry ball’ ―or crossing your hands over your forearms,” advised cognitive scientist Denise Cummins. “These actions are incompatible with leaning your face on your hand.”

WATCH: Will a Face Mask Keep You From Getting Sick?

When all else fails, affix a post-it note saying ‘DO NOT TOUCH YOUR FACE’ to your computer screen. And go easy on yourself, it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll be able to go cold-turkey after a lifetime of compulsive face-touching.

“You’ll need to honor the fact that changing a habit takes time and practice. You’ll be amazed and hopefully amused at how deeply embedded and persistent these reactions are in your psyche,” psychologist Paul Hokemeyer explained to HuffPost. “You’ll also find that changing can be exhausting and frustrating. So easy does it. These behaviors didn’t evolve over night and they won’t be changed overnight either.”