Work, study, the news, health… your daily routine often subjects you to stressful situations that, in some cases, can cause involuntary movements of your eyes or make you bite your nails. You may also feel an itchy nose or tingling in some parts of your body. These are known as nervous tics. In this article, we’re going to explore them.
Nervous tics are fast muscular movements that are generally localized and jerky. They manifest in an involuntary, isolated, and unexpected way. They tend to be iterative, habitual and aimless, and they occur at regular intervals. The psychology manual, the DSM-V, defines them as ‘rapid, repetitive non-rhythmic movements or vocalizations’.
Along with the above characteristics, nervous tics are usually differentiated by the type (motor, vocal, or a combination of both) and their duration (chronic or transient).
Types of nervous tics
Motor tics are characterized by movement. For example, the sufferer might bite their tongue or lips, wrinkle their nose, stick out their tongue, or lick their lips. In the eyes, they involve winks and excessive blinking.
Motor tics are divided into simple or complex.
- Simple tics. They’re limited to movements in which a specific muscle group participates. For instance, blinking, raising the eyebrows or shoulders, turning the head, etc. They can occur anywhere on the body, although they mostly occur on the face, neck, and shoulders.
- Complex tics. They’re characterized by the successive and continuous contraction of several different muscle groups. This gives rise to more complex movements, such as jerks and twists of the neck or shoulders.
Vocal tics are vocal sounds. For example, the sufferer might hum, clear their throat, or say a particular word or sentence. Both motor and vocal tics are often preceded by what some theorists call sensory tics. These are unpleasant sensations such as itching, tickling, or feelings of pressure.
It should be noted that, unlike other movement disorders, tics can be inhibited for a short period.
Tics are also categorized according to how long they last.
- Transient. They persist for a few weeks or months then usually disappear.
- Chronic. They last for more than a year. Unlike the transitory kinds, they never completely disappear. However, at times they might intensify or fade.
Tics are often triggered by environmental factors that cause stress. For instance, work, family, or university. But, the exact cause of tics isn’t known.
Some specialists claim that it’s not only environmental factors that have an influence. They suggest that nervous tics could also be due to the following factors:
- Eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa or bulimia.
- Infectious or autoimmune factors. Elevated levels of antineuronal antibodies have been found in patients with tics.
- Medication. Taking certain medications has been shown to cause nervous tics. For example, treatments for allergies.
- Food. A lack of certain nutrients, such as magnesium, favors the appearance of repetitive compulsive movements.
- External factors. Going through the kinds of stress or anxiety that result in situations of extreme tension or nervousness.
- Stimulant drinks. Abusing coffee, energy drinks, or other substances such as drugs. They produce an overexcitation of the nervous system.
- Family inheritance. If the sufferer’s first bloodline relatives (mother, father, grandparents, uncles, or aunts), also suffer from tics.
- Comorbidity. In certain cases, tics are indicators of larger mental health problems. For instance, attention deficit disorder (ADD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
How to eliminate nervous tics
When tics get in the way of the normal life of the sufferer, ideally they should seek professional help. This will provide them with a diagnosis and appropriate intervention for improving their quality of life. These are some of the most frequent treatments:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. It seeks to eliminate the behavior that causes discomfort.
- Relaxation techniques. The sufferer learns to control their anxiety control and develop greater awareness of their body so they can handle triggering situations.
- Pharmacological treatment. Neuroleptics and catecholamine depletors.
- Bioneurofeedback. Through electroencephalographic waves, the sufferer controls their brain’s activity.
- Habit reversal. The sufferer becomes aware of when the tic occurs. Immediately afterward, they carry out a behavior that’s physically incompatible with it.
Recommendations for treating tics at home
In all of the above treatments, a specialist is required. However, here are some guidelines that you can implement at home if you’re experiencing nervous tics:
- Meditation. Research claims that breathing exercises help reduce nervous tics.
- Food. Recognizing stimulating drinks and reducing their consumption will favor your nervous system until it can stabilize itself. Consulting with a nutritionist about a possible lack of magnesium may also be helpful.
- Self-awareness. Identifying situations that cause the most discomfort and avoiding them can reduce your symptoms. Also, looking in the mirror to recognize and identify the tics will help you generate greater self-awareness. This will stop the tics from occurring involuntarily.
Finally, if you’re experiencing nervous tics, it could be an indicator that something isn’t working well in your life. For this reason, it’s recommended that you consult an experienced professional.