So it seems there is a growing realisation of the pervasiveness of so-called repetitive, non-functional motor behaviours and that the degree to which you engage in them is a barometer of your peace of mind.
And apparently our ‘stressful society’ brings it out more!
Experts divide repetitive, non-functional motor actions into three overlapping, and not always agreed upon, categories.
First, there are the classic tics, which typically involve quick, jerky motions of the head, neck or arms preceded by an urge, akin to an itch that needs to be scratched. Tics can also be phonic such as grunting, throat-clearing or sniffing.
Then there are the stereotypies, which usually don’t have a premonitory feeling and are more fluid and rhythmic like body rocking, finger drumming and leg bobbing. And thirdly, there are the body focused repetitive behaviours, like compulsive nail-biting, hair-pulling and skin-picking.
Wow, I guess then I fit the latter... as I am often told by my family to “stop biting your nails!”
And supposedly all of these actions are what experts call “unvoluntary,” as opposed to an involuntary muscle twitch or tremor.
You can stop the tic or motor habit when asked to or when distracted, but the problem is, sooner or later, you go back to doing it.
In some circumstances the act is distressing to the person, particularly if it is injurious or embarrassing, but more often the movement or mannerism is just maddening to those in proximity.
That is me alright!
“If we dive into the research and look at disordered, unwanted repetitive actions as well as non-clinical, non-impairing repetitive ones, they all involve the region of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is involved in motor control,” says Ali Mattu, a clinical psychologist who specialises in body focused repetitive behaviours at Columbia University Medical Centre.
The theory is that when situations are frustrating or stressful because you are either over- or under-stimulated (i.e. strung out or bored) your basal ganglia manage by selecting (or perhaps failing to inhibit) a default motor behaviour, which would be the tic, stereotypy or motor habit.
Interesting as I hardly have time to get bored and I have always thought that I cope pretty well under pressure!