Yeah, I'm a nail-biter — a cuticle-biter, specifically, and it isn't cute. While I don't know that it's necessarily something I would identify as a chronic problem, it's frequent enough that it makes my nails look kind of like those of a nervous elementary school student. So, yeah, you could say learning how to stop biting my nails is on my to-do list.
As bad a habit as it is, I know for a fact I'm certainly not alone here. According to Psychology Today, research estimates that as many as 50 percent of adults bite their nails to some degree. And, in case you didn't know, the habit of constant or chronic nail-biting actually has a name: It's called "onychophagia," and according to a 2016 study published in the journal Case Reports in Dentistry, it's one of the most common personal habits among children and young adults, despite the fact that most of us know it's not exactly a good thing to do.
Like any annoying habit, nail-biting isn't without consequences, as it can result in infection or soreness at the nail bed, for one thing. Plus, you probably don't need me or anyone else to tell you that it's low-key gross to have any part of your hands in your mouth all the time.
But fret not, my friends, because there are plenty of ways you can begin to shift out of this pesky behavior that might have started all the way back in childhood. Here are a few strategies to try out.
1. Identify What Makes You Bite
As the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) points out, you might start initially biting because you found a hangnail, or because you felt anxious or bored. When you realize what instigates a nail-biting episode, pause, take a breath, and get up to go do something else and occupy your time.
2. Keep Those Babies Painted
Another tip from the AAD is to keep your nails painted and lookin' good. Yes, it can be a rather expensive endeavor to keep up with, but you don't have to shell out cash for a fancy French manicure or anything like that. Keep 'em painted in whatever way works for you so you can stop the bite before it starts.
3. Use A Bitter Nail Polish
4. Replace The Habit With A New One
Psychologist Jeremy Dean wrote in Psychology Today that a good tactic is to replace this habit with another one, like chewing gum, rubbing your hands together, or keeping a stress ball or elastic band on you that you can play with and stretch.
Dean also explained that, generally speaking, if you want to stop biting your nails, you really have to want it. It may seem obvious, but if you're not genuinely invested in changing your habits, he wrote, then you're simply not going to get the results you want.
5. Keep 'Em Short
Can't bite if there's not much there, right?
Even if you aren't getting your nails painted, taking care of them on the reg and keeping them short and filed will remind you when you go in for a bite that you've made a concerted effort already to shift the habit.
6. Change Your All-Or-Nothing Mindset
In an article for the blog Quick and Dirty Tips, psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D. wrote that shifting your all-or-nothing mindset can be a really good way to start changing any habit, including biting your nails. She suggested changing your thought process from, "I will stop now," to "I will start practicing now." She explained,
If, each time you catch yourself with your thumbnail between your incisors, you berate yourself with “There I go again,” or “I’m so stupid,” you’ll feel frustrated and probably give up.
Go easy on yourself, my friends, because changing any habit takes time, patience, and commitment. But rest assured, it's not impossible.