How to Stop Biting Your Fingernails
Nail biting is a habit born out of anxiety. We’re not talking about the kind of heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, wake-up-at-3-AM type of anxiety that requires medication and counseling — for the most part, nail biters’ anxiety is reduced to little things. Everyday anxiety that we all have when speaking in public or making a difficult decision.
As a fingernail biter myself, I know the ugly side of nail biting. I’ve had all sorts of symptoms caused by nail biting, from upset stomach to infected nail beds. Fighting the urge to bite your nails is difficult for so many reasons.
Why We Bite Our Nails
Nail biting can be an embarrassing, painful, and annoying habit. But most of us don’t even realize when we’re doing it.
It’s obvious that most people bite their nails as a reaction to stress, anxiety, or some other heady emotion. I know that I’ve discovered biting my nails when I have to think hard — sometimes even biting my nails over what to order on an unfamiliar menu or which exit to take on the highway.
Some people’s nail biting habit is more serious. If your nail biting is seriously affecting your life, you may need professional help to quit. Believe it or not, some people’s simple act of nail biting is actually considered a mild form of obssessive-compulsive disorder. If you find yourself having particular trouble quitting, or if nail biting has negatively affected your life in the past and you haven’t been able to quit, you may consider seeking help from a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Different theories exist about why we bite our nails. To some counselors, it is “internalized anger”. These people say that you rarely see Type A personalities or angry people with nail biting problems, as they allow themselves to express their anger. This theory, like all theories on nail biting, is controversial.
The truth is we don’t know one specific reason why we bite our nails. Each person’s road to nail biting passes through different towns. “Why” you bite your nails isn’t important. If it is time to quit biting your nails, you know it.
How can nail biting be hazardous to our health?
Potential Health Effects of Nail Biting
Red & Sore Fingers — Biting your nails leads to small puncture marks all around the nail bed, as well as torn cuticles and hang nails. Nail biters always have some sort of sore on their fingers from biting and pulling the nails away. This can also lead to cuticle bleeding, which itself leads to infections in the nail bed. Believe it or not, your nail bed is a very sensitive area, so constantly exposing it to the bacteria in your mouth and on your hand is a really bad idea.
Infections — You’d be surprised how easy it is to get a bacterial infection in your nail bed and your mouth. When the skin in your cuticle or nail bed is broken, the bacteria in your mouth have an easy way in. Think your hands are dirty? You ought to see what lives in your mouth.
These infections aren’t limited to the nail bed, either. Constantly biting your nails leads to teeth and other dental problems as well. People who bite their nails their whole lives are far more likely to develop diseases of the gums, this proven by research conducted at the Mayo Clinic. Your teeth can become damaged from wear and tear, leading to cavities and even broken teeth.
Nail Biting and Germs — How easy is it for germs to move from the mouth to the hand when you spend part of the day stuffing your fingers in your mouth? Our hands come into contact with terrible things over the course of a day, and the bacteria that live in the mouth are none too pleasant either.
The final impact of nail biting is psychological. We hate that we bite our nails and we get anxious over our inability to stop. If you could quit biting your nails, you’d have much less anxiety to live with — which in turn lessens your need to bite your nails.
How to Quit Biting Your Nails
1. Make an Effort
As with any bad habit, stopping your nail biting problem means you’ll have to actually put some effort into quitting. When you notice that you’re biting your nails, force yourself to stop. For some people, this is enough to help them quit. These are the nail biters who do it “absent-mindedly” and have some semblance of self control.
2. Make People Tell You When You’re Biting
Tell your close friends, family, co-workers, or whomever you see most of the time to give you a little warning when they see you nail biting. This is a great way to become conscious of how often you bite your nails.
3. Make Biting Your Nails . . . Nasty
There are a few different products available that help you quit biting your nails by making your fingernails taste bad. The idea is to convince you not to bite your nails by turning the experience negative.
The drug store stocks different products for this. Most of them are clear and colorless liquids with a bitter (but non toxic) taste such as bitter apple. You’ll not only hate the experience, but you can never say again that you weren’t conscious of your decision to bite your nails.
4. Polish Your Nails
The idea behind this step is to make your nails so pretty that you’d “hate to bite them and ruin them.” Taking time to give yourself a manicure may change the way you think about your nails and hands and further convince you to stop the nail biting habit.
If you’d rather not polish your own nails, or if you’re a guy, you could instead treat yourself to a professional manicure in a last-ditch effort to convince yourself to not bite your nails. Men, don’t be afraid — men have been getting manicures for years now, and strong, clear-coated nails are as much a part of the business world as laser-whitened teeth.
5. Wear gloves.
When all else fails, you may need to block yourself from biting your nails by wearing gloves. People may look at you funny, especially if it isn’t “glove season”, but I’ve had friends who were nurses who swear that once they got in the habit of wearing latex gloves all day at work, their nail biting disappeared. Give it a try.
If you think your nail biting habit is serious, or if you’ve started to have health problems you think are due to nail biting, contact your doctor for help giving up the habit.