Life’s awkward and sometimes socially intimidating moments can trigger our most self-destructive behaviors to try and calm the mental and physical toll anxiety creates. These harmless habits can lead to fidgeting and fussing, and potentially become hazardous to our health as they become compulsive. From the incessant nail biting to the hair twirling and pulling, these subconscious series of behaviors not only undermine our self-confidence, but also hurt our health in many unexpected ways.

To handle life’s little annoyances better, and avoid nervous habits that can become contextualized, avoid these common anxiety habits and become aware of their occurrence.

1. Biting Your Nails

Nail biting is the most common type of “nervous habit,” especially in children ages 10 to 18, with about 50 percent of children biting their nails at some point, according to the University of Michigan Health System. This habit can not only make your nails look ragged, but it can also lead to short-term problems. Occasionally biting your nails may not be harmful, unless you bite the nail bed, also known as the U-shaped area located at the base of the nail where nail growth begins.

Nail biting can lead to bleeding, bacterial infections, and warts around the nail bed. The risk of cold and other infections increase, says the Mayo Clinic, because you are spreading germs from your fingers to your mouth, and therefore causing harm to your teeth. It is important to keep the nail bed intact to not interfere with fingernail growth.

2. Clenching And Grinding Your Teeth

Aside from when you’re sleeping, people tend to clench or grind their teeth during the day as a stress-coping mechanism. Grinding or clenching your teeth repeatedly are seen as parafunctional actions. This means they are dysfunctional habits that have the ability to cause harm to the teeth and the masticatory, or chewing system.

Dr. Shehzad Sheikh, a family and cosmetic dentist in Dominion Dental Care in Sterling, Va., has had some patients who had tooth sensitivity because of grinding. “I had a patient about a year ago who said ‘doc, in the rest of my body, I don't feel anything anymore, but my teeth hurt!' She had just retired, and was clenching and grinding because of the stress of NOT working any longer, and this was causing tooth sensitivity,” he told Medical Daily in an email. Sheikh fitted his patient for a night guard, and six months later she was fine.

Although our teeth tend to be more sensitive when we’re younger, the development of hairline fractures as we age contribute to teeth becoming more sensitive to us. Tooth anatomy changes can also lead teeth to become more sensitive as these changes take place. Untreated cavities can also cause sensitivity, along with root exposure.

3. Crossing Your Legs

Whether this is your preferred style of sitting, or you do this when you’re stressed or anxious, this movement can be detrimental to your health. Sitting with your legs crossed can lead to a slight rise in blood pressure, varicose veins, and bad posture. People with varicose veins may experience some blood refluxes out into the small veins on the surface, which subsequently swells under the pressure, wrote Merlin Thomas, an adjunct professor of preventive medicine at Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute, in a post.  

Leg crossing can have an effect on the back, hip, and pelvis. Sitting with your legs crossed can cause firmness in the sciatic nerve, and decrease blood flow, pain, numbness or tingling in the legs, when this nerve is squeezed. This is what makes your foot “fall asleep” after crossing your legs. This position is not recommended for those who have back and hip problems.

4. Pulling And Twirling Your Hair

Women may twirl their hair in their hands as a flirty gesture to get the attention of their object of desire, but doing this on a daily basis can have consequences on your health. Hair twirling or twisting can go from normal to compulsive, and lead to trichotillomania. This hair loss condition can begin as an innocent hair twirl, and then develop into the pulling of individual hairs.

Pulling your hair continuously could lead to patchy areas and baldness as the hair follicles become damaged. This behavior can resemble a habit, an addiction, a tic disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder, says the Trichotillomania Learning Center. Currently, it’s being conceptualized as part of a family of "body-focused repetitive behaviors" (BFRBs) along with skin picking and nail biting.

5. Sucking Pencils And Pens

At one point or another, you may have subconsciously found yourself slightly biting or sucking on a pencil or pen during bouts of brainstorming or anxiousness. Not only does bacteria spread from your mouth to the pen, and from the pen to your mouth, this habit can wear down teeth and cause tooth sensitivity, jaw pain, facial pain, and headaches among many others. This can be classified as “unchecked grinding and clenching,” Dr. Kenyon Glor, a cosmetic dentist in Wellington, Ohio, told Medical Daily in an email. “[S]evere tooth wear and fracture, even to the level of the gum tissue,” he said. Moreover, since all that force is concentrated in the TMJ, or jaw joint, this can lead to premature deterioration and pain.

6. Touching Your Face

Stressful times can lead you to pass your hands over your face in frustration, but this can actually result in blocked pores and acne. People who usually find themselves touching and rubbing their face incessantly often feel an itch, which is a nervous sensation they must scratch. Haley Kulow, master aesthetician and certified master makeup artist in Boston, Mass., and CEO and founder of HK Beauty Consulting, told Medical Daily in an email, “Picking at your skin (blemishes, dry skin) leaves that area covered in the bacteria transferred from your dirty finger/nails onto your face and absorbed into your skin.” Picking away at your skin leaves an opening for anything bad like bacteria to get into the body.

Regain physical and mental control of your anxiety, and avoid these six common nervous habits for better health.