Onychophagia (on-i-koh-fey-juh) is the scientific word for nail biting. If you are a compulsive nail biter, chances are that the habit started when you were very young. Almost 50% of adolescents tend to bite their nails but over 3/4th of those people will end up giving up the habit by the age of 35. Nail biting in an unconscious behaviour- it is also a nervous habit that is repeated out of anxiety, boredom or stress.
Biting nails is a psychiatric or medical problem and it falls under the “pathological grooming behaviours” category. These are essentially very extreme behaviours that cause a significant amount of stress and impairment for the individual who has them,
The Unhygienic Habit
Not only is it an unhygienic habit, but is also socially unacceptable and bitten and ragged nails are not really attractive, and the act of biting nails; even more so. Some people bite their nails to a point where their fingers start bleeding or their nails get so stunted that there are hardly any nails left.
But stopping the nail biting habit is not only for cosmetic purposes- it has a negative impact on the health too. Whenever you bite your nails, bacteria get transferred from your hands to your mouth. Nail biting also causes infections and can damage the nails, teeth and gums.
But it is heartening to note that this habit is curable and all it takes is a concerted effort and a bit of persistence and determination. Here are a few tips to smoothen the path:
- When you get the urge to bite your nails, delay the urge. At the outset, delay it only for a few seconds, increase that to a minute and then for longer period of time. Its best to set a timer and progressively increase the time that you “allow’ yourself to bite
- Do any kind of competing response like forming a fist with your hands. This will prevent you from taking your hands up to your mouth and over time, it also helps in controlling the urge
- Cover your nails with “invisible” waterproof band aids. They won’t be visible to other people so easily, but will be a physical reminder for you. They are not really a deterrent for a determined nail biter, but will defer the urge which gives you much better control
- Bad-tasting nail polish is another trick which nail biters commonly use. If the weather permits, using gloves is another effective method
If you are unable to find a suitable distraction to stop biting your nails, maybe therapeutic methods will help you in a better way. This can be a slightly tricky situation as most people do not consider nail biting to be a specific disorder & most of the remedies are of the DIY kind. But if you are determined to kick the habit, find a suitable “quit buddy”.
If you get some support from another person who is also ridden with the same habit, it helps you kick the habit much faster. In turn, you are also the support that the person needs and it becomes a 2-way exercise. You can share strategies and tips about quitting and might just find that something that has worked well for him/her, may work well for you too.
Personal appearances are of great importance in human society & most people make an attempt to look their best. But biting nails affects the way they look and the cuticles and nails look extremely shabby. This is also why you will find that a lot nail biters tend to keep their hands folded or tucked away in their pockets/ hidden from view.
Bid Adieu to Nail Biting
If you harbour an anxiety about the appearance of your nails, using positive visual imagery can also be a very powerful motivator. In this strategy, you post a number of pictures of beautiful-looking hands in and around your house. It acts as an incentive which helps you achieve your goal faster.
Keep a stress ball handy and when you get the urge to bite your nails, use the stress ball instead. It’s something that helps as long as you persist. The most important thing is that you should not give up. Set small goals and then transition to bigger ones- very soon you will find that your nail biting habit is history.