Stop Nail Biting Today
As a recently recovered nail biter (*update- over 2 years biting free!), I have discovered a number of coping mechanisms which have stopped me from giving in to the usual habit. If these techniques can help a lifetime biter like myself, then they are sure to help anyone. If, like me, you have tried various potions over the years only to be disappointed when you grew accustomed to the taste, you will find that trying a different approach may help...
Why Do We Bite?
There are a number of reasons why we bite nails but according to psychologists, it usually stems from early childhood, where we discover that things in our mouths are pleasurable (think of why we always had a dummy/pacifier to soothe us).
This primal desire is often discouraged by adults around us, who encourage us to get rid of our precious dummies, and some children move onto chewing fingers/ hands to replicate the sensation of the dummy. The adults then unwittingly create an oral fixation, by constantly depriving us of this, either by taking our dummies away prematurely, or by telling us that chewing fingers is "dirty" or "bad."
This particular explanation can be linked to around half the cases of nail biting- others being learned behaviour or nervous OCD type behaviour.
Personally, I know that I have an oral fixation- typically diagnosed by constantly chewing on pens/pencils/ fingers, smoking and/or overeating. If you do any of these, it's more than likely you have an oral fixation, and these tips should help you.
I would expect these tips will also help anyone who is a learned biter- that is someone who learned the habit from a sibling or another adult, and adopted the behaviour as their own.
Why do you want to quit nail biting?
Why We Shouldn't Bite
There are many reasons why we shouldn't bite nails.
Firstly, there is the hygiene aspect- do you know how much bacteria there is under the typical fingernail? Even hand washing regularly doesn't penetrate the deep recesses of under the nail tip, and this is a perfect breeding area for bacteria. If you travel via public transport, think of this- would you voluntarily lick the hand rails? No? That is equivalent of what you are doing when you bite your nails. Yum!
Secondly, there is maturity- I'm sure there have been plenty of situations where you have felt rather childish when your hand unwittingly went towards your mouth, and you were mid bite when someone asked you a question. It has happened to me all to often.
Thirdly, there is Vanity. It may not be high on many lists, but I know that I definitely like the look of my hands a lot more now that my nails aren't little rough, bitten stumps. I also love the fact I can now paint them various different colours without looking like a 10 year old.
Fourthly, there is the fact that you can damage your teeth- particularly if trying to bite with dentures or veneers.
The list really is endless, and I am sure that anyone reading this post has their very own reason for giving up nail biting.
So, how do we do it?
1- Set A Date
If you set a giving up date (not too far in the future) you are more likely to stick to your resolution. When I gave up nail biting, I decided that I would start on a Monday, as over the weekend I may have been bored, and more likely to bite, plus it allowed a fresh start to a new week.
2- Remember Why You Are Doing This
Whether you are growing your nails for a particular occasion, or you simply want to kick the habit you should always keep in mind your end goal- this will keep you focused and less likely to falter.
3- Keep Them Short
It may be tempting to grow super long nails at first, but bear in mind that they will be brittle from years of biting. Keep nails short to begin with (just over the nail tip) and use strengthening nail varnish to harden nails. Once hard, begin growth at a slow, steady rate- I personally hate the feeling of a nail bending and this tends to happen when the growth is rushed.
4- Paint Nails Regularly
I find that if I paint the nails with varnish or nail wraps, I am less likely to bite. This is because I can't see the build up of white nail, reducing the urge to bite it off.
5- Keep Your Hands Busy
Find something to do to keep your hands busy. If they are busy with a task, they are less likely to travel towards your mouth automatically.
6- Keep A Nail File Handy
If you develop a snag on your nail, you should never try to bite it away. It is unlikely that you will have a nice finish, and very likely that you will revert back to your old ways! A snag nail is no excuse to bite! Use a nail file to file away any imperfections.
7- Avoid Your Trigger
Personally, anxiety is generally my trigger for nail biting. You should try to identify your trigger so that you can then avoid it! Anxiety is slightly difficult to avoid completely, but if I am aware of the trigger, I am more likely to be conscious in stopping myself from nail biting.
8- Wear Gloves
If possible, wear gloves as this presents a barrier between your mouth and the nails. If you live in a cold country, this is easier to do, however if you are not, think about using gloves during food preparation or rubber gloves when cleaning. As well as being a barrier, the gloves also protect your nails from damage from everyday activities.
9- Don't Worry About Breakages
There's no need to worry about breaking a nail- it will happen! What you need to do is avoid using this as an excuse- you don't have to bite the rest of your nails down to the same level! Instead, use a file to even the top of the nail, and file the rest down slightly to meet the level. This doesn't particularly matter if you are keeping the nails short.
If you like the taste....
10- Treat Yourself
It may sound silly, but plan to reward yourself for good behaviour. If you stop biting for a week, buy yourself a nice nail varnish or nail art set. If you manage a month, book yourself in for a manicure. However you reward yourself, remember to acknowledge your success as this will also encourage continued success.
Good luck in your attempt to stop nail biting. Please comment with any suggestions or barriers you are facing, and I will try to use my experience to help!
© 2014 Lynsey Harte