Nail biting and picking not only have technical names (Onychophagia or onychophagy) but are also very common, I’m sure we all know a nail biter or picker! It’s a habit and behaviour that’s been studied a lot in recent times. Whilst the act of biting or picking is a very typical behaviour, it can become more of a chronic habit and is classified as a “body-focused repetitive behaviour disorder” (BFRB’s). In more extreme cases, these BFRBs can escalate to hair pulling (trichotillomania) or skin picking (excoriation disorder).
Symptoms can range from the physical but also the psychological whereby people have a compulsive urge to bite their nails. The habit can also be totally unconscious behaviour, where people do not actively realise that they are doing it. In most cases nail biting does not cross the line between normal behaviour and pathological nail-biting, whereby significant distress is caused. It is enough however to have cosmetic and psychological implications such as guilt or embarrassment, not to mention wasting money after a manicure!
So, what causes the habit? Nail biting is commonly associated with anxiety and stress but the act itself reportedly helps to relieve anxiety, stress and tension. Catch 22!
There’s also studies that report people habitually biting their nails when they feel nervous, lonely, bored and in some instances hungry. There’s also links to ADHD. You can find more information on this in our blog written by Claire Twomey who specialises in ADHD treatment. LINK
It all seems like a vicious cycle! Anxiety – Nail Biting – Anxiety & Stress caused by nail biting – More Nail Biting!
Are there ways to manage it?
1. Bad Tasting Gels
I’m writing this with vivid memories of my mum applying anti-nail-biting gel to my sibling’s hands. The bitter taste worked to some extent but a quick handwash or complete de-sensitisation to the taste soon kicked in. It also doesn’t stop nail picking! Probably not a long-term solution, but if you can build a habit by reducing the amount of nail biting and picking, you may be able to overcome it all together.
2. Create a Barrier
Doctors also recommend using barrier type interventions, such as gloves or mittens. Which let’s be honest, do work but are not the most practical solution.
3. Build Good Habits
We always recommend building good habits, so if you’re able to; try and discover what your triggers are. When you realise that you’ve been biting or picking, see if you can isolate the emotion that caused it. Is it anxiety, boredom or stress? Add it to your journal and try to ground yourself when you know what’s caused the feeling. Confronting this emotion and link to nail biting is your first step to building good habits.
4. Reward the Small Victories
You’re not going to be able to overcome the habit overnight so take small steps and celebrate the little wins. Even if you do find yourself biting again, don’t worry, just acknowledge it and start again.
5. Occupy & Distract
Doctors recommend using a stress-ball to occupy your mind, mouth and fingers. We might be biased here at Tranquillity but we believe that our anxiety rings and anti-nail biting jewellery is a much more empowering way of occupying your fingers. The spinning rings can help pacify these feelings of anxiety, stress and agitation and we’ve had countless testimonials that endorse this, including this one:
“Absolutely love this ring, it always calms me down and has stopped my bad habit of biting my nails!”
Whatever, you route of choice is, we wish you luck and remind you that even a “thousand-mile journey starts with a single step”.
We’d love to hear any tips and techniques that you might have that we haven’t yet mentioned, so leave a comment below.