Trying to break your nail-biting habit but can’t seem to make it stick? It’s not uncommon, especially if you’re an adult nail-biter. Old habits die hard, as they say, and this one’s no exception. It is possible, though, to stop biting your nails in adulthood. Below are tips and tricks that former members of the gnawed-nails club say worked for them.
Is biting your nails bad for you?
Before we jump in, let’s start with some science. While most nail-biters want to quit for aesthetic reasons, there are health and hygiene reasons that are just as (and probably more) compelling. Biting your nails can have side effects that are detrimental to your health in a number of ways:
- Biting your nails can expose you to germs and bacteria in the air. Everything from viruses, flu, and the common cold can be passed through your hands to your mouth when you bite your nails.
- Biting your nails can cause lasting damage to your nails and the surrounding skin. The cuticle, the nail bed, and the skin around the nail can become dry and cracked, making it more susceptible to infection.
- Biting your nails is bad for your teeth. Your nails contain hard substances that are often too tough for your teeth to break down. This can cause them to become chipped, eventually leading to costly dental bills.
- Biting your nails can even be hazardous to your emotional well-being. It can give you a lack of self-confidence and make you more self-conscious of your appearance.
- Biting your nails is a huge waste of time. You may not think it takes much time to nibble away at your nails, but it adds up. Time spent biting your nails could be applied to learning a new skill or enjoying a hobby.
Why do I bite my nails?
Understanding the causes of your nail-biting habit is vital to eliminating them (and in turn, relinquishing the associated habit). Nail-biting is often used as a coping mechanism for stress, boredom, and even hunger. In fact, onychophagia (nail biting’s scientific name) is classified as a stress relieving behavior, much like skin picking, thumb sucking, and hair pulling. It is also considered a body-focused repetitive behavior, and could be a response to insecurity or a need for comfort in tough situations. For many people, nail biting is likely to become a bad habit over time — and habits are often unconscious behaviors. While there’s likely a specific, emotionally-driven trigger for chewing on your nails, the more you engage in the act and form a habit, the more likely you’ll find it to become an unconscious behavior, which makes it so difficult to stop.
How can I break the nail-biting cycle?
Now that you understand why you bite your nails, it’s time to take action. Here are steps for breaking the cycle.
Step 1: Identify your triggers.
The first step is paying attention to what makes you want to bite. Is it when you’re bored, anxious, or stressed? Or maybe it’s when you need something to fidget with. Knowing your triggers can help you to avoid situations that may lead to nail biting.
Step 2: Find an alternative.
Once you know your triggers, it’s time to replace the behavior with something else. It could be something as simple as carrying a fidget toy, chewing gum, or playing with a stress ball when you feel the urge to bite your nails. You can also keep a list of activities that make you happy or calm, and refer to it when you feel like biting your nails.
Step 3: Go cold turkey.
It’s not easy, but cold turkey is often the most effective way to stop nail biting. Make sure that everyone around knows about your goal so they can help hold you accountable. If possible, try removing potential triggers from your life, such as having too much idle time or being around things that cause stress or anxiety (like certain people). If all else fails, reward yourself for each day without biting with something small like a cup of coffee or a piece of chocolate — anything that will give you an extra incentive!
Step 4: Stay focused.
Finally, stay committed, and don’t be discouraged if there are setbacks. Breaking any bad habit takes time and dedication, so stick with it! Every time you catch yourself biting your nails, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you no longer need to rely on the habit.
How can I quit biting my nails?
Breaking the habit of biting your nails is hard, but these 10 tips can help:
Keep Them Short
If the length of your nails makes it hard to stop biting, try keeping them short and trim until the habit is broken. This will help ensure you don’t put yourself in a situation where you have no other option but to chew.
Painting your nails is another great way to break the habit of nail biting. Regular manicures and DIY nail care will make them look more attractive and less tempting to bite. Acrylic manicures, in particular, are much harder to bite through. You could also cover them with band-aids or stickers to support healthy nails and prevent yourself from biting .
Keep a fidget toy or a stress ball handy to help occupy your hands and keep them away from your mouth.
Find Fresh Air
Taking a walk or spending time outdoors can help you clear your head and keep busy so you won’t be tempted to bite.
Distraction is key when it comes to breaking the habit of nail biting; if activities make you happy or calm, do those instead!
Letting your family and friends know about your goal will help hold you accountable for achieving it and give you an extra layer of encouragement when times get tough.
Mindfulness is a great way to become aware of your body and thoughts. Focusing on the present moment will help you to be more in tune with your emotions and recognize when stress, boredom, or other triggers may lead to nail biting.
Pursue Positive Triggers
Put up positive affirmations or quotes around your house that will help to remind you of your goal and keep you motivated.
This one might seem obvious, but wearing gloves or mittens can help to keep your hands occupied and away from your mouth.
Use Bitter-Tasting Nail Polish
Try using a clear top coat with a bitter taste if you find yourself tempted to bite during times of stress or boredom; this may help remind you not to bite.
Track Your Progress
Writing down how many days in a row you’ve gone without biting can motivate you to keep going and give you a sense of accomplishment when you reach your goal.
Celebrate your successes! Whenever you reach a milestone, treat yourself with something special or set a new goal to work towards. This will keep you motivated and on track with your nail-biting goals.
Remember, breaking any bad habit takes time and dedication, so stick with it and don’t be discouraged if there are setbacks along the way.
Talk to a Pro
If you’re having difficulty breaking the habit on your own, it may be helpful to talk to a mental health professional or therapist who can help you identify the source of this repetitive behavior and develop coping strategies.
The Nail in the Coffin (Of Nail-Biting)
Breaking a chronic nail-biting habit can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. With patience and dedication, anyone can learn how to break the habit (and keep it broken for good). Start by understanding why and when you bite your nails, then experiment with different alternatives until one sticks. Finally, go cold turkey and make sure those around know about your goal so they can help hold you accountable. You’ve got this!