Why do I put my hands behind my head so much?
November 9, 2005 11:32 PM   Subscribe

I put my hands behind my head a lot. I haven't always done it, and I don't like it. How can I stop?

In the past, oh, few months or so, I've noticed that I frequently put my arms/hands behind my head -- either with hands clasped and elbows out, or putting one forearm behind my head with elbow up and sometimes resting the other hand on that elbow. They're positions some people do when they're relaxing or stretching. Only I'm doing neither.

It's not a huge deal, though I worry it gives people I'm not especially close to the impression that I'm always "just chillin'". Plus, people have told me it's weird. Do you think this is just a habit, or could it be something else? Either way, what's the best way to get rid of it?

(In the interest of covering all my bases -- I'm somewhat twitchy and have some Tourette syndrome/OCD-type behavioral traits. Not nervousness, just tics. The arms-behind-head thing does not at all "feel" like a tic to me, but I figured it might be a similar neurological process that some medical MeFite might find useful to know.)
posted by SuperNova to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
Not that this helps, but I've noticed myself doing that lately, too. We-e-e-e-eird.
posted by vernondalhart at 11:52 PM on November 9, 2005

My father and I have always done that.

I remember my mother chiding me for walking to the car after school with my hands clasped behind my head circa second grade.

No tics here, but a fair amount of non-neurotypicality.
posted by adamwolf at 12:06 AM on November 10, 2005

I think that sometimes it's just a comfortable position. I wouldn't sweat it too much.
posted by wsg at 12:17 AM on November 10, 2005

You could perhaps try wearing a large spike that protrudes from the back of your skull. Put it on a headband, maybe. Or create some other pain mechanism for aversion therapy.

Alternatively, when you find yourself in that position, stop. Try to pass it off as stretching if anyone is looking at you strangely. As long as you're only doing it on your own personal time, like at your office or at home, I wouldn't worry. If you start doin it at parties or on dates, then there might be something weird going on.
posted by kyleg at 12:30 AM on November 10, 2005

Have you been feeling especially threatened or vulnerable lately? Maybe you're trying to make yourself appear larger and more aggressive to possible competitors. Lots of animals have physical adaptations to make themselves seem larger when they need to appear dominant or aggressive. While hiking in California, everyone told me that if I met a mountain lion on the trail, I was to unzip my jacket and raise the loose ends behind my head to create a big, scarey hood.

Are you trying to fend off an attack?
posted by defreckled at 12:32 AM on November 10, 2005

I think this is generally recocgnised as an action you do to comfort yourself (i.e. mimicking your head being cradeled when you were a child). I often see people do this in the work place when they are asked an uncomfortable question or in a tricky spot. I don't like to give too much away body language wise, so if I catch myself doing it, I stop and if possible try and pass it off as just scratching the back of my head of something, like kyleg suggested.
posted by chill at 2:45 AM on November 10, 2005

I dunno about a spike, but if attach something there you can feel it will remind you every time. A piece of clear tape stuck to your hair? It is possible to get out of these habits.
posted by lunkfish at 4:25 AM on November 10, 2005

Something or other cues you to put your arms above your head. These two things might help you stop:

1. Say to yourself a strong "tchk!" (you don't have to scold out loud if you don't want to weird people out)

2. Strongly tie the action to a different cue, one that you have control of. For example, say "chill!" in a clipped, authoritative voice (like you were saying "sit" to a dog), and in response put your arms up behind your head. Give this command/response a couple of times in a row.

The second suggestion feels silly to do, but I've used it to eliminate an annoying gesture I used (got the idea from dog training). Really the main thing is to be hyper conscious about it, and give yourself a negative reinforcement (the scolding) when you catch it.

p.s. but don't dwell on it or scold/negatively reinforce yourself when your not doing it--only if you catch yourself. Like anyone who's got a dog will tell you, going off on a "misbehavior" that happened even five minutes ago does little good. Besides, your gesture isn't that awful; there are worse out there. And the characters in this comic have always got their arms resting above their head for some reason, so it can't be all that uncommon.
posted by neda at 4:49 AM on November 10, 2005

I tend to think of putting my hands behind my head as stretching the muslces on the bottom of my upper arm. I also tend to feel that it's a lazy way of elevating my arms above my heart, and therefore stimulating circulation through gravity.

Both of those things don't make it less annoying, however. I tend to run my hands through my hair, chew on my shirt (if it's not a collared shirt), rub the bridge of my nose, lean forward unnescessarily, etc. All of these habits I'd like to change, but because putting my hands behind my head requires me to stop working and take a good portion of time out of my work, I tend to do it less frequently than the others.
posted by thanotopsis at 5:14 AM on November 10, 2005 [1 favorite]

I do this all the time. I'll have my hands and arms akimbo all piled on top of my head. I've had to learn to stop, even though it's really comfy for some reason, because it feels like I'm trying to draw attention to my breasts, and I'm not.

but I didn't always do this, dunno where I picked it up.
posted by nile_red at 5:47 AM on November 10, 2005

We had a pet loris in our house, the result of some non-neurotypicality on my fathers part.

Leaning back with its hands locked behind its head was its favorite position.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:53 AM on November 10, 2005

Wear a rubber band around your wrist. When you catch yourself in the undesired posture, snap the rubber band such that it smarts a little (and change your position). Initially you will snap the rubber band a lot (and you will wonder whether or not it's working), but I've found that it can take as little as two or three weeks to get rid of such habits (if indeed it is only a habit). Good luck.
posted by unknowncommand at 1:24 PM on November 10, 2005

People often emulate gestures and expressions, both facial and oral, of those whom we like, respect, admire, are intrigued with, or just see a lot of. What have you been watching on TV? Seen any really good movies lately? Any new co-workers or acquaintances? A new or developing romantic relationship? See if you notice similar behavior in others around you.
posted by attercoppe at 10:22 PM on November 10, 2005

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