“It’s not such a bad habit! Sure, my nails don’t look so good, but it’s not like I’m doing any harm biting my fingernails. Besides, I can stop any time I want!”
How many of us have heard our friends and family members say this when we catch them biting their nails? If you’re a nail biter, you’ve probably said the same thing.
The truth is that most people don’t see nail biting as a problem, but it’s just a habit they have. They’re not going to harm their fingernails, are they?
Read on to find out everything you need to know about nail biting…
Nail Biting 101
Did you know:
That’s a lot of people biting their nails! But do you know what causes it?
The Reasons You Bite Your Nails
Nail biting is a nervous habit, meaning it’s something people do when they are:
It is the most common nervous habit on the planet, and it’s common among children going through adolescence. After all, the teen years can be quite stressful, and one of the ways that stress manifests itself is through nail biting.
Obsessive Compulsive Nail Biting
According to psychologists, nail biting is something that you do out of a need for control. There are many stressful things in our lives that cause us to lose control:
- Losing a loved one
- Leaving home
- Trying new things
- Going through changes
- Traumatic experiences
Most humans like to control their lives, but when they lose control they seek to find something in their lives that they can keep in order. This is why many people develop obsessive compulsive tendencies like:
- Making their bed the same way every day
- Daily routines that cannot change
- Eating the same foods every day without fail
- Stressing or obsessing over little things
- Becoming anxious as a result of little changes to your lives
Obsessive compulsive tendencies are not quite Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but they can transform into the disorder if left untreated long enough.
Nail biting is one of those obsessive compulsive tendencies that you may develop as a means of taking back control in your life. Letting you nails grow too long subconsciously becomes another loss of control or power, so you bite your nails in order to take back that power.
Pathological grooming is the name given to people who turn normal grooming actions–such as combing you hair or cleaning your nails–into something obsessive. When it gets out of control, that’s when it becomes pathological.
Psychologists have placed pathological grooming in the same category as OCD , and the grooming is triggered by stressors such as:
There are many things that can trigger the need for you to groom yourself, and it’s a pathological habit over which you have little or no control. Just like with OCD, you take normal behavior to the next level, performing commonplace actions to the point that it becomes excessive.
If you were to study many of the nail biters of today, you’d find that a large percentage of them have addictive tendencies. They are biting their nails, but it is as addictive to them as alcoholism, drug addiction, caffeine addiction, or smoking.
A lot of smokers and recovering alcoholics end up biting their nails, as they need something to keep their hands and mouth busy in order to distract themselves. If they are unable to smoke or drink, biting their nails is their way of dealing with the addiction.
Why Nail-Biting is Bad
We know that nail biting is bad because it’s an addictive, nervous habit, but did you know that it can cause damage to your teeth, nails, and gums? You’ll find that it’s not the most dangerous habit around, but it still causes deterioration of your body. For this reason, it’s better to learn how to stop biting your nails!
Biting your nails doesn’t just leave you with short fingernails, but you’ll find that your fingers will often become red, inflamed, and sore if you bite them often. After all, your nails weren’t meant to be bitten, and trying to shove your nail into the slim space between nail and nail bed can cause damage on a cellular level.
Also, your mouth is full of bacteria, which is transferred to the area around your nails every time you bite them. If you bite the nails or cuticles too short, you could open a wound. The bacteria in your mouth will fester in that wound, as will any bacteria that your hands come in contact during the day.
You could end up with infected fingers thanks to your nail biting, and that infection can spread throughout your body every time you touch yourself.
Your hands are usually the dirtiest part of your body, so it shouldn’t surprise you that they are caked in bacteria. Every time you touch something dirty, bacteria are passed to your hands. When you put your fingers in your mouth to bite the nails, the bacteria from your hands goes into your mouth. You increase your risk of oral bacterial infections every time you bite your nails thanks to the fact that your hands are so dirty.
Did you know that biting your nails also does damage to your teeth? Grinding your teeth on the tough fingernails can cause them to not only be weakened in their gum sockets, but can even cause them to become misaligned. You’ll find that weak teeth are more susceptible to infection, and bringing more germs to your mouth just increases that infection risk drastically.
If you bite your nails, your fingers just don’t look as good as they would with regular fingernails. Many people find that their fingers are an embarrassment, and they fight to hide their fingers. You may feel like hiding your bitten fingernails when in public, and that simply adds to the anxiety or stress that you are already feeling.
The more stressed and anxious you are, the more likely you are to bite your nails in public. It’s a vicious cycle that just continues worsening.
Also, biting your nails will make you look less professional. Imagine that you’re meeting with a client for the first time, and he sees you biting your nails from nerves. Not only will it make you look like a nervous, stressful person, but it will subconsciously decrease your appeal to the client. You can lose business just because you bite your nails in front of your clients.
Trying to stop yourself from biting your nails can just increase your stress, making it more difficult for you to interact with others.
How to Stop Biting Your Nails
Now we get to the real important stuff: tips to help you know how to stop biting your nails.
This is not only the important part of this post, but also the hardest. Breaking any bad habit like biting your nails is going to take some serious commitment on your part, as well as a lot of mental fortitude. Get ready for the challenge of a lifetime, and use the tips below to help you as you quit:
Change Your Behavior
What is triggering your nail biting? Is it the time you spend driving in traffic every morning, or is it the work you’re doing? Are you nervous when you meet new people, or when you try new things? Do you get the urge to bite your nails when you’re bored, or does it set in when you feel like you need to calm yourself down?
Think about what’s causing you to bite your nails, what things in your life make you feel you “need” to bite them. Identify the stressors that make you indulge in your bad habit, and change them.
- Do you bite your nails when sitting in traffic? Why not give yourself a manicure instead?
- Don’t bite your nails in anticipation of meeting new people, but occupy your hands by writing letters as you sit in the waiting room or conference room.
- Are you a nail biter when you feel stress? Try sitting on your hands and breathing deeply.
The best way to get rid of your nail-biting habit is to change the things you do when you feel nervous, stressed, or bored. Identify the trigger, change up that behavior, and it will be much easier to stop biting your nails.
Resolve to Quit
The first step towards quitting is making the decision to quit. You need to examine it critically and realize that it really is a problem. It’s not just “something you do”, but it’s a nervous habit that shows a flaw in your mental condition. In order to improve your mental health, it’s time to make the resolution to quit.
Obviously, quitting is harder than just saying in your head, “I want to quit.” However, if you make that promise to yourself, you’ll find it’s much easier to start down the path to quitting.
Make a Conscious Effort
When you find your hands gravitating towards your mouth, make a conscious effort to bring them away. Try to keep your hands busy at all times, even if it means that you play with pens, toothpicks, and other small items. As long as your hands are busy, you will keep them away from your mouth.
However, there are always going to be times when your hands just don’t have anything to do. You can’t drum on the desk or fiddle with a pen in the middle of a meeting, so that’s when you have to make the real conscious effort to keep them away from your mouth.
Be conscious of where your hands are at all time, and notice them when they are slowly moving towards your face. Put them down by your side, and sit on them if you have to!
Replace Your Habit
If your nervous habit is to bite your fingernails, it’s time to replace that old habit with something new. Nervous habits are never healthy for you, but at least you won’t be biting your nails.
Try things like:
- Playing with a paper clip
- Fiddling with rubber bands
- Twiddling your thumbs
- Eating a carrot or celery stick
- Playing with a stress ball
- Chewing gum
- Putting your hands into your pockets
- Folding or clasping your hands
All of these things will help you to occupy your hands when you are nervous or stressed, and they will keep your fingers far away from your mouth at the same time. When you feel nervous, make sure to have something in easy reach to keep your hands busy.
It can even be something as simple as a hair elastic or rubber band around your wrist. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to replace that old nail biting habit with a new, less destructive one.
Have Clippers and a File Handy
Want to make sure that your fingers stay far away from your mouth? Keep a pair of nail clippers handy, and keep your nails trimmed. Clipping your fingernails is actually a great way to kill the nervous habit of biting your nails, and you can play with the nail clipper in order to keep your hands busy. With short nails, there is nothing to bite.
You should also have a nail file on your desk or in your pocket at all times. Many people bite their nails in order to prevent ragged edges, so having a nail file handy will help you to keep your nails nice and smooth. You can give yourself a manicure when you feel the stress or nerves mounting.
Talk to a Therapist
Remember that nail biting is a nervous habit, one that you indulge in when you feel stressed. Stress isn’t something you HAVE to live with, but you should consider talking to a therapist to help you come up with coping mechanisms for your stress. They can help you to not only deal with the stress when it arises, but even deal with the problems that lead to stress.
Remember that a lot of nervous habits stem from anxiety over a loss of control, but working with a therapist can help you to realize that you don’t need to control everything in your life. You’ll be able to come to grips with the things that are out of your control, and you’ll learn how to deal with the problems.
It’s one of the best ways to get rid of not just your nail biting habits, but also the stress that is ruling your life.
Get a Manicure
Want to take a shortcut to quitting your nail biting habit? Try getting a manicure! Both men and women can benefit from a manicure, as it will make your nails look good. It will file away all of the rough, ragged edges of your nails, leaving them looking good.
When you next go to bite your nails, you’ll remember just how much you spent on the manicure. You won’t want to make all of that money go to waste, so it will make it just that much easier for you to fight the urge to bite the nails. Plus, if they’re coated with nail polish, biting your nails will taste horrible. It’s one of the best ways to get started down the road to quitting your habit.
Try One at a Time
Instead of trying to quit biting all of your nails, just stop one finger at a time. It’s a much slower process, but you’ll find that it can be much easier to wean yourself off the habit without forcing yourself to stop biting them now.
You can start with any nail you want, and make a conscious effort to NOT bite that one. Trim the nail whenever it grows long, and add one finger at a time. The fewer fingernails you bite, the less you will want to bite the nails.
If you want to make it harder to bite your nails, you can try one of the following tricks:
- Drip Tabasco sauce over your fingernails
- Dip your fingers in chili pepper
- Sprinkle cinnamon over your fingernails
You can use any hot sauce, spicy food, or spice that you want, as long as it makes your fingernails undesirable (if you’re a hot sauce junkie like me, it may not work).
Paint Your Nails
You can paint your fingernails (men can use clear nail polish) in order to avoid the desire to chew on them. The nail polish will taste horrible when you chew on it, and you’ll be less likely to bite your fingernails.
As a bonus, the nail polish will make your nails look much more attractive.
Neosporin can help to repair the damage that has been done to your fingernails through regular biting, and it will taste ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE! Make sure to apply the unguent regularly, and never let your nails go without a coating of the foul stuff. Just the smell alone will be enough to discourage you from biting your nails, and you’ll find that it will be that little bit easier to kick your bad habit!