Lenstore spoke to Jordan Vyas-Lee, a clinical director at Vyas Lee Practice ( Private Child & Adult Psychology service in London), to give more insight into the mental effects of mucus fishing.
Mucus fishing syndrome is best filed under the habit disorders or body-focused repetitive behaviour disorders section of mental health diagnostic manuals rather than the OCD sections. The two issues share some observable characteristics but are different problems with distinct driving mechanisms.
Habit disorders like Mucus Fishing syndrome have repetitive behaviour at their core. This observable behavioural compulsivity is the shared characteristic with OCD. But habit disorders are governed mainly by the brain parts that deal with automated behaviour without thinking or anxiety.
Once a behavioural pattern has been initiated – in the instance of TikTok induced MFS, possibly through copying and fad a habit pathway is quickly formed in the brain. The behavioural sequence then becomes hard to prevent for the individual, despite any negative consequences the behaviour might bring.
With OCD, it is widely agreed that repeated behaviours are carried out to prevent some awful feared consequence, e.g. to prevent harm coming to oneself or a family member, ensure the house doesn’t burn down, and so on. Therefore, the compulsions are driven by an underlying anxious thought pattern absent from habit disorder. The compulsions are goal-directed in OCD but are pure action sequences in habit problems.
Some new evidence suggests that the habit-forming parts of the brain active in MFS become more active during times of stress. But this is different to being driven by the goal of preventing a specific feared outcome.
It’s probably best to say that habit disorders and OCD are linked by how they look but are largely driven by differing mechanisms.
What effect can mucus fishing have on someone’s mental health?
A huge impact if the issue spirals. Sufferers typically experience anxiety about being unable to control the issue. Low mood can set in as feelings of low self-worth activate around image concerns resulting from repeated body picking trauma.
In a physical sense, MFS results in chronic issues with permanently reddened eyes, ongoing eye infection, and issues with perpetual inflammation. The issue might even lead to more serious conditions such as optic neuritis, damaging the optic nerve due to chronic swelling. Often the most debilitating emotional consequence stems from these physical issues – feelings of shame and embarrassment at image and lack of control or the core of habit disorder problems.
In severe cases, a considerable knock-on impact to other aspects of daily routine and mental health might follow. Picking sessions can consume even more time. Some sufferers might begin to avoid social situations for fear of judgement, and low mood or anxiety might become more permanent issues.
Sufferers then spend less time doing the things that matter and contribute to good mental health, e.g. seeing friends, attending work, college or school, etc. This can further compound emotional difficulties.
What treatments can be used to help with these tendencies?
Treatments are two-fold. A GP or psychiatrist might prescribe anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication to help with a habit disorder.
Psychological treatments are available and effective. Behavioural or cognitive-behavioural treatments are thoroughly researched and good methods for treating both OCD and habit disorder.
For habit problems, treatment tends to focus initially on generating awareness of the cues and patterns that sit around habits (often aware of the problem results in an immediate reduction in picking), reducing time spent in the presence of stimuli that encourage picking, developing and practising habit-reversal techniques, dealing with image concerns that grow up around physical deformation issues, and dealing with background levels of stress to reduce further the likelihood of picking.
A therapist can develop a tailored treatment plan depending on the nature of the problem being faced, which is subtly different in every case.
What other activities can help distract people tempted to mucus fish (whether from OCD or from seeing this TiktTok trend)?
The activity that engages us most is that which uses the most attentional capacity – e.g. reading uses more capacity than TV watching or internet surfing. So mindfully engaging in reading, playing music, writing, speaking with somebody, being immersed in a video game, and so on would be useful ways to distract.
Also, think about the type of activity that is valuable to you. What speaks to you as an important aspect of life is fully focusing on other people, being an excellent problem solver, and progressing in your career or studies. Think about what is important in life and the best activities with these values to be better distractors.
It is important to think about which activities to not use as distractions. It seems obvious, but it is important to say that you should avoid using activities as distractions that have historically been associated with picking sessions. This, from experience, tends to be sitting alone, scrolling, or watching videos.
The experts at Lenstore have given their tips for maintaining eye health and reducing the likelihood of excess mucus and inflammation:
Avoid touching your eyes where possible
Our hands are the biggest spreaders of bacteria and dirt, and touching them to our eyes makes it easy to spread infection.
Avoid excessive screen time
One of the leading causes of dry eyes is significant to screen time which causes us to blink less. By taking regular breaks and looking at objects that are further away, you can reduce dryness and the likelihood of irritation.
Clean your glasses regularly if you wear them
Glasses can easily pick up infectious material from your hands, and they’re cleaned less regularly. Using a small amount of dish soap and a microfibre cloth, you can clean the lenses as well as the frame.
Dehydration can cause your eyes to become dry and irritated, leading to excess mucus production and possibly a mucus fishing habit. Maintain good levels of hydration to avoid this.
Avoid contact lenses if your eyes are irritated
Contact lenses can contribute to dryer eyes and cause greater irritation. If your eyes are facing infection, for example, from conjunctivitis, using contact lenses can also cause the infection to spread faster.
You can find the full research and tips from Lenstore on Mucus Fishing Syndrome, the risks and symptoms here.