Severe cases of nail biting or onychophagia that causes visible damage may be linked to emotional factors and can be a body-focused repetitive behavior disorder. Undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy with habit reversal training or acceptance and commitment therapy may prove helpful here.1
Ugly, bitten nails can make you feel self-conscious and embarrassed. Nail biting usually begins in childhood but it’s something many of us aren’t able to shake off even in adulthood. Chomping down on your nails can affect the tissue involved in nail growth and leave you with disfigured nails. But beyond affecting the way your nails look, it can also make you vulnerable to infection as harmful germs pass from your nails to your mouth.234 If you’re struggling to get rid of this disagreeable habit, we’ve got a few ideas that can help:
1. Identify Triggers And Find A Way To Deal With Them
It’s important to figure out what’s causing you to bite your nails. It may be your coping mechanism when stress, boredom, or anxiety strikes. Or you may notice that you’re more likely to bite your nails during particular times or activities – say, when you watch TV. Your trigger may even be physical things like the presence of a hangnail. Whatever it is, once you’re aware of your triggers, you can come up with a plan to avoid those or find an alternate way of dealing with them. Just understanding when you’re prone to biting your nails may take you that much closer to solving the problem.
2. Replace It With A “Good” Habit
Starting a new habit can be a vital element in getting rid of old habits. So instead of just telling yourself to stop biting your nails, give yourself something better to do – replace it with a competing response that’s incompatible with nail biting. Some ideas that you can try include placing your hands in your pockets, chewing gum, or playing with an elastic band or a fidget toy.
3. Try Decoupling
Decoupling is a technique that has been found to be useful in tackling nail biting. So what is it? A simple self-help technique, it mimics the main movements of nail biting but diverts them to a harmless action – in other words, “decouples” them from the harmful action of nail biting. Here’s how you do it. When you feel like biting your nails, let your fingers rise to your mouth. But before they reach the mouth, move them to another location such as your ear! The diversion should be performed with acceleration as that spurt of movement helps to block the old action. Follow this up by massaging the nails that you were going to bite with your other hand softly. This relieves the need for the sensation experienced by your fingertips when you bite your nails.5 6
4. Keep Your Nails Short
Here’s another simple way to stave off the temptation to bite your nails. Just keep your nails short – short nails mean less nail to bite!
5. Get A Manicure
Yes, getting regular manicures may actually make you stop biting your nails! First of all, you won’t want to mess up beautiful looking nails. The thought of the money and effort that went into getting your nails looking that pretty can also act as a deterrent.
6. Wear A “Reminder” Wristband
For most of us, nail biting is an unconscious response, that is, it happens almost automatically without your even realizing that you’re doing it. A visual cue which reminds you not to bite your nails can be helpful. One study found that wearing a wristband as a reminder was useful in helping people quit nail biting. You can use other items as reminders too but using something that’s constantly there (like a wristband) and which doesn’t need to be reapplied or renewed makes things easier. This way, you won’t have to rely on your memory to reset the reminder.7
7. Use Physical Barriers Like Gloves Or Tape
Barriers that physically block contact between your nails and your mouth work as impediments as well as reminders when it comes to nail biting. Think gloves, stickers, tape – something that covers your fingers. Bite plate devices can also help. One case study showed how a bonded oral appliance worked as a deterrent for a 26-year-old patient whose fingers nails (and teeth) were in bad shape because of constant nail biting. The addiction reduced within a month’s time and eventually he stopped biting his nails completely.8
8. Apply Bitter Nail Polish
Try applying bitter-tasting nail polish which helps you beat nail biting. It’s safe and worth a shot. No points for guessing how it works! Looking for something more natural? Try applying the juice of a bitter gourd to your nails. If you’re lucky, the hit of bitterness may be enough to remind you of what you’re doing and stop you in your tracks!
9. Tackle Nail Biting Finger By Finger
Some experts suggest taking a measured approach when it comes to quitting nail biting. Rather than going cold turkey, try taking baby steps. For instance, you could decide to stop biting your thumb nails first. When you get that done, go for the pinky nails and so on. The final goal, of course, is to stop biting your nails altogether but minor accomplishments along the way could spur you on. Remember, nothing succeeds like success!
10. Try Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation involves quieting your mind and focusing your attention on thoughts and sensations of the present moment. It can help you increase your self-awareness and understand the situations or feelings that trigger nail biting. In fact, one study conducted on women in a correctional center found that when they participated in a structured meditation program, they not only stopped biting their nails but also experienced a reduction in anxiety and stress levels and slept better.9
11. Monitor Your Progress
Monitoring your progress is an important aspect in any attempt to change a behavior. You can enlist the support of your friends and family who can help by pointing out when you bite your nails. You can monitor yourself too. Studies have found that taking pictures of your nails at frequent intervals to document your progress as you wean yourself of nail biting can be immensely helpful.10 But don’t beat yourself up if you do slip up once in a while and end up with a picture of a nail that’s been nibbled on. Studies also show that having a compassionate and accepting approach to a personal failure can increase your motivation to make an improvement!11 So just hang in there and keep at it till you beat it.
|↑1||Onychophagia (Nail Biting). Psychology Today.|
|↑2||Onychophagia (Nail Biting). Psychology Today.|
|↑3||How to stop biting your nails. American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑4||How to Stop Biting Your Nails. Psychology Today.|
|↑5||Moritz, Steffen, Andras Treszl, and Michael Rufer. “A randomized controlled trial of a novel self-help technique for impulse control disorders: A study on nail-biting.” Behavior modification 35, no. 5 (2011): 468-485.|
|↑6||Moritz, Steffen, Antonia Peters, Michael Rufer. Decoupling: a new method for reducing nail biting and hair pulling (trichotillomania).|
|↑7||Koritzky, Gilly, and Eldad Yechiam. “On the value of nonremovable reminders for behavior modification: an application to nail-biting (onychophagia).” Behavior modification 35, no. 6 (2011): 511-530.|
|↑8||Marouane, O., M. Ghorbel, M. Nahdi, A. Necibi, and N. Douki. “New Approach to Managing Onychophagia.” Case reports in dentistry 2016 (2016).|
|↑9||Sumter, Melvina, Elizabeth Monk-Turner, and Charlie Turner. “The potential benefits of meditation in a correctional setting.” Corrections Today 69, no. 4 (2007): 56.|
|↑10||Craig, Andrew R. “Self-Administered Behavior Modification to Reduce Nail Biting: Incorporating Simple Technology to Ensure Treatment Integrity.” Behavior analysis in practice 3, no. 2 (2010): 38-41.|
|↑11||Breines, Juliana G., and Serena Chen. “Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38, no. 9 (2012): 1133-1143.|