I fully admit that I used to be an avid nail biter and nail picker. That’s right: used to. I was a nail destroyer since I was a kid and had tried to stop multiple times since I was about 11 years old. They all resulted in relapses and I eventually gave up.
Before we get into any remedies to curing nail biting, we need to understand that the truth about nail biting is that it is an addiction. While it’s not harmful like cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, it definitely causes a psychological dependency in a similar way that the former causes tissue, or physical, dependency.
Nail biting is caused by stress. I denied this fact for quite a while because it seemed so natural for me to bite my nails that I didn’t think it could truly be stress. It was just something that I did, a bad habit I couldn’t break. But nail biting is more than just a bad habit. A bad habit is more along the lines of waking up late consistently or not washing the dishes after eating causing them to pile up. Nail biting is a bad habit that forms because we are taking out nervous energy from either external or internal stressors onto our nails.
Don’t believe me? Start a journal. Every time you bite your nails, write down everything you’re doing and what you’re thinking. You should start to see a pattern. I noticed I’d bite more often during the school year and less during the summers. I remember during one of my attempts at quitting I ended up failing during finals week.
So how did I finally stop biting/picking at my nails after 20+ years of doing so?
I recognized that it was all in my head. That gnawing desire to tear off my nails was nothing more than my mind stressing about something. I’ve read about so many techniques to quit biting like painting your nails or using a foul tasting polish to deter yourself from biting. And those worked for a while, but it didn’t last.
And that’s because nail biting is more than a physical habit as I previously stated. It’s psychological and because it’s psychological you are going to have to go full psychologist on yourself. Nail polish didn’t work for me, but what did was simply talking myself out of it. I had a series of questions I asked myself when I wanted to bite:
Why do you want to bite your nails?
Because I have a test coming up.
Does biting your nails make this problem go away?
Is biting your nails going to make you feel better?
No, I’ll feel worse for having ruined my nail.
While this is straightforward, more often than not, I went in circles with myself trying to justify biting. Oftentimes I had the negative thought of I just can’t stop myself. I had to learn to shut down that part of my thought process and negate it with, I can stop myself. The power of a positive outlook is amazing; oncologists encourage cancer patients find a positive outlook on life because doing so increases their chances of going into remission. Find your positive voice and by doing so, you will increase your chances of stopping your nail biting habit.
In the end, it took a lot of chanting to myself, “This will not make you feel better; this will not make your problems go away,” and there were definitely some slip ups, but I did it. I stopped biting altogether and now I have no desire to bite.
So if you’re a nail biting addict, try reasoning with yourself. Remind yourself that biting isn’t worth it and won’t make you feel any better. Look for other ways to relieve your stress and if you mess up, that’s okay. Try again anyway.
I’ll see you next Wednesday!