How to stop repetitive behaviors

How to stop repetitive behaviors

While most repetitive behaviors are harmless, some can harm you or those around you. If you have a repetitive behavior that is causing problems in your life, there are things you can do to stop it.

Repetitive behaviors are often done as a way to relieve stress or anxiety. They can also be a way to cope with boredom or loneliness. Some people develop repetitive behaviors as a part of a mental health condition, such as OCD or autism.

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to stop repetitive behaviors. You can break the habit and live a happier, healthier life with a little effort.

What are repetitive behaviors?

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often develop repetitive behaviors called “stimming.” repeating words or phrases, compulsively performing the same action over and over, or engaging in other similar behaviors is often referred to as having a “repetitive behavior.” While stimming is a common and characteristic symptom of ASD, not all people with ASD stim. And people who do stim can have very different stimming behaviors.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), repetitive behavior is any behavior that is repeated over and over again. This can include simple things like tapping or twirling or more complex behaviors like hoarding or repeating certain words or phrases.

Repetitive behaviors are common in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ranging from mild to severe. Some children with ASD outgrow their repetitive behaviors, while others continue to display them into adulthood.

There is no known cure for ASD, but there are treatments that can help reduce repetitive behaviors. Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is one of the most effective treatments for ASD, and it has been shown to help reduce repetitive behaviors in some children with ASD.


Some examples of repetitive behaviors include:

-Hair pulling

-Skin picking

-Nail biting

-Joint tapping or cracking

-Body rocking

-Head banging

Why do people engage in repetitive behaviors?

Repetitive behaviors can be a way to cope with anxiety or stress. They can also be a way to deal with boredom. Some people engage in repetitive behaviors because they find it comforting.


Anxiety is often at the root of repetitive behaviors. When we feel anxious, our bodies produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is designed to help us deal with short-term stress, but when we’re constantly feeling anxious, our bodies can become overloaded with cortisol. This can lead to restlessness and irritability and cause physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches. Engaging in repetitive behaviors can be a way of dealing with this anxiety. It can help us feel calmer and more in control.


Boredom is often cited as a reason why people engage in repetitive behaviors. When people are bored, they may turn to repetitive behaviors to pass the time or relieve boredom. Boredom can lead to persistent and compulsive behaviors, such as shopping, playing video games, or browsing social media.

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be particularly susceptible to boredom, as they may find it difficult to focus on one task for an extended period. Boredom can also be a symptom of depression. People who are depressed may engage in repetitive behaviors as a way to cope with their low mood or negative feelings.


Repetitive behaviors can be a way of coping with stress. When we feel overwhelmed or anxious, performing certain actions can help us to feel more in control. For some people, this may involve tapping, blinking, or clearing their throat frequently. Others may pace back and forth or fidget with their clothes.

These behaviors may temporarily relieve stress, but they can also become habitual. Over time, they may become increasingly difficult to control. If you find yourself engaging in repetitive behaviors, it’s important to seek help. A therapist can assist you in identifying the source of your stress and developing healthy coping mechanisms.

How to stop repetitive behaviors

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. People with OCD have obsessions and compulsions. An obsession is an unwanted, intrusive, and often disturbing thought, image, or urge. A compulsion is a repetitive behavior that a person feels compelled to do to ease anxiety or discomfort.

Change your environment

One of the best things you can do to break a repetitive habit is to change your environment. If you usually carry out the behavior in a specific place, try to avoid that place. For example, if you bite your nails while watching TV, find something else to do with your hands when watching TV. If you can’t avoid the place where you usually carry out the behavior, try to change the way it looks. For example, if you always bite your nails at your desk, move things around, so your desk looks different.

Distract yourself

A common way to stop repetitive behavior is to distract yourself. This can be done by occupying your hands with something else, such as fidgeting with a pen or playing with putty. You can also engage your mind in another activity, such as reading or listening to music. If you’re aware of the urge to perform the behavior, you can redirect your thoughts by focusing on something else. For example, if you’re obsessed with cleaning and you start to feel the urge to clean your house, force yourself to think about something else, such as what you’re going to make for dinner.

Be mindful of your triggers

We all have certain repetitive behaviors or activities, often repetitively, without even realizing it. For some people, these behaviors are helpful and provide a needed sense of structure or security. But for others, these behaviors can become problematic, interfering with everyday life and relationships.

There are many possible causes of repetitive behaviors. They may be a way to cope with anxiety or stress or symptoms of an underlying mental health condition such as OCD or autism.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help reduce or eliminate repetitive behaviors. Be mindful of your triggers. If you can identify what triggers your repetitive behaviors, you can avoid those triggers or at least be better prepared to deal with them.

Try to stay in the moment. When you engage in repetitive behavior, try to bring your attention back to the present moment and focus on what you’re doing. This can help you break the cycle of repetitive thoughts and behaviors.

Practice mindful breathing. Taking slow, deep breaths can help you relax and stay in the present moment.

Use distractions wisely. If you can’t seem to stop a certain behavior, try distracting yourself with something else that is positive and constructive. For example, if you tend to pace when feeling anxious, try listening to music or reading a book instead.

Seek professional help if needed. Suppose your repetitive behaviors are causing significant problems. In that case, it may be time to seek professional help from a mental health provider experienced in treating disorders such as OCD or autism spectrum disorder.