What is nail biting? How do you fall into this harmful habit?
Nail biting is the act of biting down on your nails fairly frequently. Lots of people of all ages are prone to fall into this habit. In clinical terms it is referred to as onychophagia. Nail biting might be a harmless thing that you can do occasionally when thinking about something, like thinking about where to get a present for a dear friend. Or it can be one that you find yourself doing repeatedly to the point where you harm yourself. If you reach this degree, then it becomes a problem that needs to be addressed.
As mentioned previously, anyone can fall into this potentially harmful habit. This can also include family members and close friends. It can eventually become an unconscious thing for you to do whenever you’re lost in thought.
You might not even notice until you start to feel pain from your fingers and find that blood is coming out from your fingertips. Afterwards you may start to feel like you need to hide your hands from close inspection and feel ashamed of the way your hands look. You might also start to notice that your teeth are becoming crooked from trying to bite your nails.
What is its cause? Why do we bite our nails?
Nail biting is something anyone can fall into, however it is more likely to develop in childhood. Main cause for this nervous habit is usually stress or anxiety. But it is more likely to be more complicated than that simple explanation. For example, it might give you the illusion that it helps you to control your emotions. Or it could just be a learned habit from watching an adult.
Since we all experience emotions of stress and anxiety, it is important to keep in mind that they are not negative themselves. This is because it motivates you to make preparations for the day, in a way forcing you to think about what you have to do and plan out for day to day scenarios.
But in times where your anxiety is elevated in excess or you’re feeling it for a prolonged time, it can have serious negative effects on your physical and mental health. If you do not catch it early on it will become a habit, and once that happens you will find yourself doing it whenever you are stressed or anxious. It may also occur for no apparent reason, such as when your hands are idle.
Can nail biting be addictive?
Roughly 20% – 30% of people fall into nail biting, however even with the number of people doing it there is no clear reason as to why nail biting is so addicting. Possible reasons that might motivate people to do it are social acceptance, convenience since obviously your nails are always within reach. It might also give you a sense of control over your life if you feel like you have no control over your life. So all in all, yes, nail biting can be addictive for many reasons.
9 ways to stop biting your nails
You need to want it first
It does not matter how many people tell you to stop doing something, if you do not want to stop yourself. Change needs to come from within, and in this case preventing yourself from nail biting needs to be desired by you. For being a simple habit, breaking can be unusually difficult for a person. Possible reasons for this can be due to the fact that our hands are always with us, and also maybe because it does not seem like it is a big deal.
You can try to exaggerate the negative aspects of nail biting as much as you can inside your head. Since if you think of a problem as no big deal and you can stop it whenever you want without giving it the attention it deserves, then it will be hard for you to make a change. A way for you to go about this, is to focus on the positive results that will come. Such as, having healthy, attractive, looking nails and a gain in confidence in yourself for changing a bad habit you once had.
Suppressing the problem never works
When you have a child and he does something you perceive as bad, then one just yells or punishes thinking that it will solve the problem. However, that thinking is counter productive, since the child might begin to use it as a means to garner attention. So if you find yourslef nail biting, do not ignore it.
Take care of your nails
If you have long nails, then it is best for you to clip them and clean your nails. Since it can be harder to ignore longer nails and you can just start biting them absentmindedly. Make sure to manage hangnails you might have. A viable solution would be for you to get regular manicures done by professionals.
Use visual reminders
You can try wearing something that has a bright color on your wrist, as a visual cue to remind you of your goal. This will help your brain to take notice when you are about to bite down on your nails. You can also use bright nail polish as the reminder.
Take notice of emotions or thoughts when you start nail biting
Just like situations, our thoughts and feelings cue up our behavior. If you can spot the types of things you are thinking about or feeling when you bite your nails, then this can help. Some people like to use mindfulness as a way of increasing self-awareness.
Try painting your nails with bitter tasting nail polish
When habits are instilled in you, it is usually linked to certain situations. So it is hard to take notice of when you do it, such as when people are yelling in front of you or even when watching TV.
You can try painting your nails with a bitter tasting nail polish, to make you take notice of when you do it and stop. However, some people can get used to the taste and build up a tolerance to the taste and carry on as is. If that doesn’t work you can try to apply a clear gel to make it harder for your teeth to reach your nails.
Replace the bad habit with a good one
A good way to go about quitting a bad habit is for you to just replace it with a new one. Not saying it will not take work and effort to pull it through, but oftentimes when you want to replace an old habit you put a different one in its place. Best ones to do are ones that conflict with your old habit. Some of these include twiddling your thumbs, chewing gum, or as mentioned before just build a practice to clip and file your nails on a regular basis.
Make sure to repeat the good habit
At first, your new habit will have to compete with your old one and in this case that is nail biting. So don’t beat yourself up for it, remember you are human. These slip ups will fade away with time, gradually you will find yourself leaning away from it and doing your new habit more and more.
Keep a journal
One method to keep the new response going is to keep a journal to track your progress. This journal can be a written one, or it can even be a photo journal where you capture the shape of your nails every couple of days. Doing this will help motivate you to keep going, or if you find yourself failing it will also motivate you to make a change.