Is BFRB a Form Of Stimming?

Self-stimulating behaviors, also commonly known as stimming, are self-regulating habits and sounds one indulges in to deal with extreme emotions. These self-soothing behaviors are often associated with neurodivergent disorders such as autism spectrum disorder. Individuals suffering from these conditions use stimming to handle emotions and sensory input. 

Stimming is a broader term encompassing BFRBs, especially if the BFRBs are repetitive and self-directed. However, not all stimming habits can be classified as BFRBs since stimming habits usually occur for various reasons, including sensory regulation. Some of the repetitive BFRBs that can also be classified under stimming include skin picking, nail-biting, and hair pulling since they are often repetitive and occur as a response to stress or anxiety.

Stimming habits

Stimming habits can be worrying to external observers. It can get irritating watching one bite on their nails or pull out their hair constantly, but it is of significance to individuals battling various disorders, including autism. It helps them keep their emotions in check and handle over or under-stimulation. Stimming becomes dangerous when one self-harms. Some of the inflicted injuries can interfere with one's appearance, thus lowering their self-esteem. There is usually a need to unlearn these habits and adopt healthier ones. There is a wide range of repetitive behaviors that can manifest as stimming. Some stimming behaviors are usually exhibited among individuals with autism, while neurotypical individuals experience others. Some of the stimming habits inclined towards the autism spectrum disorder include: 

  • Flapping of hands
  • Banging and rocking of your head
  • Fast blinking
  • Finger flicking
  • Repetition of words
  • Twirling

Common stimming habits both in autism and BFRBs include:

  • Nail biting
  • Hair twirling and pulling
  • Scratching and picking the skin

Although stims are often adopted as a coping mechanism, some types of stimming habits are harmless, while others may leave on with injuries. Stims such as repeating words or excessive blinking can be benign, while some, such as skin picking and nail-biting, may be embarrassing as well as leave one with injuries. Other stims, such as hair twirling, may be socially acceptable, and people around hardly pick it out as a stimming habit.

Is Nail Biting a type of Stimming

Nail biting, also known as onychophagia, is commonly classified under BFRBs and is a stimming habit usually experienced by autistic individuals. It is an obsessive-compulsive disorder that helps individuals counter negative emotions. Onychophagia is common even since, for some, it is not habitual, thus making it socially acceptable. Most people may fail to notice that it is a problem, especially during its mild stage, compared to other stims, such as head banging, which are extreme.

Is Hair Pulling a Stim?

Hair pulling and other forms of BFRBs fall under stims since they are often triggered by stress, anxiety, and boredom, and they give temporary relief to such emotions. They also occur repetitively, as they are a self-soothing mechanism. Compared to other stims, individuals dealing with BFRBs are often distressed by their condition and would prefer for it to stop. This is why most people coping with BFRBs often seek professional help to help them come up with alternative methods to react to stress and anxious moments.

Can Someone Stim without Being Autistic?

Stimming is not limited to autistic disorder; thus, a non-autistic individual can also engage in stimming behaviors. However, compared to autistic stimming, neurotypical stimming is often less noticeable unless. In autistic stimming, it is usually more severe and physically harmful, especially with behaviors such as repetitive head banging.

How to Manage Stimming Behaviors

Management of stimming behaviors often requires a personalized and supportive approach, seeing as, just like BFRBs, stimming triggers vary. Therefore, what works for one person may not apply to the next person. The primary objective is to handle stimming in ways that match an individual's specific needs. Some of the best ways to take stimming habits include:

Identify Triggers

Understanding one’s triggers that cause stimming behavior promotes effective management of one's sensory stimuli, emotions, and situations since one can anticipate their reactions, making it easy to come up with countermeasures.

Find an Alternative Outlet

Offer alternative sensory activities or stimming behaviors that are more socially acceptable and less disruptive. This could include using fidget toys, stress balls, textured objects, or sensory-friendly items. These items can help distract one from engaging in repetitive behaviors such as hair twirling or pulling since they keep one distracted. During anxious moments, the urge to engage in body-focused repetitive or stimming behaviors can be intense, thus the need to nip these emotions in the bud by diverting your attention elsewhere.

Follow a Consistent Routine

A structured schedule provides predictability and consistency, which helps reduce anxiety since one does not have to handle things spontaneously. Sometimes, the fear of the unknown can drive one to engage in stimming behaviors; thus, having a structured routine helps an individual know what to expect. Also, you must include breaks and sensory-friendly activities in your routine to help reduce tensions that may come with the need to perform.

Create a Sensory Diet

Develop a sensory diet tailored to meet your sensory needs. This may involve incorporating specific sensory activities throughout the day to regulate arousal levels and reduce the need for stimming. A sensory diet promotes self-regulation and makes one comfortable in one's environment, which results in improved behavior and attention. For example, cutting down on sugary foods helps reduce hyperactivity, which means one can get better sleep and relax, thus avoiding stress. A sensory diet also includes various healthy activities, such as:


Becoming more self-aware helps an individual develop self-regulation skills that will make it easier to identify when stimming habits become disruptive or socially unacceptable. Additionally, when one is more aware of their condition, they can adopt healthier coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, meditation, and diverting their attention to other activities without much difficulty.

Seek Social Support

Aside from seeking professional help, it is also essential to tighten one's social support, which includes help from friends and family. One needs to be in an environment where their condition is understood and accepted. Consistent social support makes the recovery process more effective since there is less judgment and more motivation. Furthermore, there is always a need to seek professional help from qualified healthcare professionals and occupational therapists with experience working with individuals who stim. Therapists provide unique interventions and support strategies.


In extreme cases, one may get a medical prescription to help manage the underlying conditions associated with stimming, such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, prescribed medication is often given under the instruction of a qualified healthcare professional. These prescriptions are often used to ease core symptoms such as irritability, which often causes stress and anxiety.


Stimming is a broader classification of various repetitive behaviors usually adopted for self-soothing due to irritation, stress, or anxiety. Many people, both autistic and not, indulge in self-stimulating behaviors frequently. While some of these behaviors are socially acceptable, others are not and are often viewed as disruptive. For example, nail biting and hair pulling can be disruptive since one may injure themselves. Often, these behaviors occur when someone is bored, anxious, overwhelmed, in pain, or experiencing another strong emotion; in these cases, an individual often finds instant relief. The primary objective in managing stimming habits is to support the individual in managing stimming in a way that aligns with their needs and preferences while promoting their well-being and functioning in daily life.

Self Help Strategies
Hair Pulling
Nail Biting