Are you prone to biting your nails when stressed, anxious or bored? Unfortunately, you are not the only one. Interestingly, the habit is shared between 20 and 30% of the population. However, this seemingly harmless behavior can lead to serious health problems. Chronic nail-biting, if left untreated, can cause a host of health issues, including infections, and may even lead to permanent damage to your nails.
If you are one of those people who cannot help but nibble on their nails all day, you know it can be a difficult habit to break. But, there are ways to stop this urge from happening. Here are the top expert-approved tips for ending nail-biting and getting strong, healthy nails without being incessantly gnawed.
Why do I bite my nails?
It is important to understand the reasons behind your nail-biting behavior before you can stop it. Nail biting is called onychophagia by medical professionals in clinic settings. Rebecca Rialon Berry (Ph. D., a psychologist who is also the director of the Tics and Tourette Disorder and Trichotillomania Programs at the Child Study Center NYU Langone Health, nails-biting falls under a category of behavior known as body-focused repetitive behaviors (or BFRBs). These are any self-grooming habits that cause damage to the skin, hair, and nails.
These behaviors are so common. Research shows that there is a genetic reason for this behavior. Many environmental triggers can lead to nail-biting behavior, including anxiety, stress, and boredom, as well as other emotional distress. Berry says that sometimes people engage in such behaviors because they feel overwhelmed, under-stimulated, or bored. "Then there are those who could be doing more automatically as a part of a stress response.
What health risks are associated with biting your nails?
Although nail biting seems like a harmless activity, many risks are involved. These include, but are not limited to, infections. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic research and dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says nail-biting can lead to loose or raw skin. These infections can lead to permanent nail disfiguration and are serious in severe cases.
Other than nail deformities and skin infections, there are other potential risks, such as damage to your teeth or jaw problems. It can also be a hygiene problem, especially during the COVID-19 epidemic. Your hands and nails can become a breeding ground for germs, so it is essential to practice good hand hygiene. It is not believed that COVID-19 spreads primarily through inoculation. Do not put your dirty hands in your mouth. It's best to be cautious when you are out in public.
How to stop biting your fingers:
Although you may not stop nail-biting overnight, it is possible with some effort and time. These are our experts' top tips and strategies to help you stop biting your nails.
Identify your triggers.
Dr. Berry advises that you first look at the areas of your day where you are most likely to engage in this behavior. For example, you might notice that you nibble while scrolling through email, working, or watching TV. Berry explains, "We want to focus on what a person does, where they are, and who they're around. What are they feeling?" Next, Berry asks, "Is there an emotional connection of boredom or anxiety that could be contributing to and reinforcing this behavior?"
You can now modify your environment to stop you from engaging in this behavior. For example, you might find that you bite your nails most often when doing work in your bedroom. If this is the case, you could try sitting in the dining area and doing it with other people. This will help you to become more conscious and aware of the behavior.
Keep a list of your urges.
You can monitor your nail-biting triggers by keeping a physical record of how often you bite your nails. Although it sounds overwhelming, this may help you break your bad habit.
McMackin says that self-monitoring can help reduce destructive behavior. For example, it's hard to write, type, and bite your nails simultaneously. You can log your nail-biting behavior and then reflect on it. Many people find that they can stop biting their nails at a specific time and change their behavior.
Take care of the emotions below-the-surface
Sometimes the trigger that causes you to stick your finger in your mouth is not physical. Heather Edwards, LMHC, is a New York-based psychotherapist who says that changing your environment won't make a difference. For example, you can identify a physical prompt to bite your nails but not the thoughts or feelings you had just before.
"What was your inner monologue at this moment?" Edwards says that sometimes we use unhealthy coping strategies to cope with life. What did you think about the situation? Are you able to challenge your self-talk or train of thought? For example, you may find yourself anxiously reacting or grabbing your nails to cope with feelings and thoughts. What would be a better solution? Keeping your hands busy while dealing with anxiety and stress-related emotions can be challenging. However, it is possible to make things easier by being aware of these emotions in advance.
Keep your nails short.
It's possible to bite your nails more if they are too long. To stop this, it is a good idea to trim your nails. It won't feel as satisfying to bite down on a nail that is too small to grab with your teeth. Also, short nails are more manageable and easier to keep clean than long ones.
Do a good manicure.
Do you want an additional reason to stop biting your nails? Spend a little extra to get a manicure done by you from home! By taking the short amount of time to apply our press on nails, you'll be less likely than others to damage your nails by biting. You wouldn't want to ruin these beauties!
Use a bad taste to coat your nails.
Dr. Zeichner says that one of the best ways to stop nail-biting is to apply a foul-tasting varnish to your nails. You will not put it in your mouth if you don't like its taste. Many nail polishes with a bitter taste will prevent you from biting your nails. Berry suggests ella+mila No More Biting if you want a child-friendly version. But, of course, you'll be hesitant to eat it! Or you can use hot sauce or Jalapenos!
You can cover your nails.
A salon manicure won't stop you from biting your nails, but it can help. First, Dr. Berry says, "You want to place some blocks and methods to make it difficult to bite." For example, you can put on gloves, bandages, or press-on nail sets. Anything that could physically prevent you from reaching your nails with your teeth is a good idea.
Do not forget to use your hands and mouth.
Berry suggests using your hands and mouth to distract yourself from biting your nails. You can also play with stress balls and fidget toys instead of biting your nails. You can also chew gum if you want to keep your mind busy.
Make the most of technology.
A suite of mobile apps is available for free that can help you stop nailbiting. This includes top-rated apps like Quit That! & Nomo. Some apps can be used with technology, such as smartwatches and standalone devices. For example, McMackin's patients love the HabitAware bracelet. This wearable device vibrates every time you touch your lips with your nails.
"Users train their bracelet to recognize the motions that indicate the behavior they want to change. McMackin explains that the bracelet alerts the user when it senses engaging in the behavior. This method is popular because it removes much of the effort involved in self-monitoring.
Might need extra help
You might consider seeking out a therapist if all else fails. Nail-biting could signify a more severe problem like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or another anxiety disorder. However, it is essential to remember that this behavior can also occur without these conditions. Berry suggests that you seek professional help if nail-biting causes significant distress or dysfunction. Dr. Zeicher says that underlying issues such as anxiety should be addressed if the habit is causing distress.
A visit to the dermatologist may be necessary if you have any health problems resulting from nail-biting. Dr. Zeichner advises that if you bite your nails or develop red, swollen, tender, or painful areas on your skin, you should visit your dermatologist immediately to determine if you have an infection.