Many people struggle with nail biting. It can seem like something you can't stop. You probably found this post because you were Googling how to stop nail biting. I have had a bad problem with nail biting for much of my life, but it has gotten much better, and I'll share my insights with you here.
How Serious is Nail Biting?
Well, it depends. How often do you do it?
Is it just something you do a little when you're experiencing a stressful event, or is it a recurring and damaging part of your life? How badly do you do it? As in, how low do you bite your nails down? Does it cause you distress?
Nail biting can cause:
- lowered self-esteem
- jaw and mouth problems
- physical pain
- skin infections
- nail damage
- digestive issues
I was always an anxious child. I used to suck my thumb, and when I stopped doing that, I replaced it with nail biting and pulling at the loose bits of skin around my nails. I would chew my fingernails ridiculously low and they'd bleed and feel miserable. The loose bits of skin would get tugged and chewed, until I made uncomfortable places on my fingers and sometimes until they bled.
With the skin, I seemed to feel I could make my skin smooth again if I removed those loose bits, despite the fact that I pretty much always just made the problem worse.
The fingernails were largely a mindless activity. I was going to bite it, often without even realizing what I was doing. The rest of the time I was trying to even them out or something like that, similar to the skin.
What I've Tried to Stop Nail Biting
My parents got some of that stuff you paint on your nails that makes them taste nasty. It did taste nasty, but not enough to be a deterrent.
People told me stories like that I'd damage my appendix or whatever crazy mess might scare me out of it. Didn't work.
My mother would tell me to stop when she saw me. Didn't work. I'd just try to be less noticeable or stubbornly go on anyway.
Telling me about germs and infections didn't help. Even though I had many mouth ulcers and assumed that was where they came from.
I've tried giving myself things to do with my hands or even sitting on my hands. That can be very successful, depending on how engrossing the activity is. I can't just sit on my hands or play with a necklace or stress ball. That won't last. If I'm busy using my hands to do something active or meaningful, I will have few opportunities to chew my nails.
Painting my nails with fingernail polish can help a lot. It's not a guarantee, but it has often helped me get my nails long enough that I'm not tempted to bite them anymore. People recommend keeping your nails short so you don't have anything to bite. If I tried to do that, I'd be obsessively clipping my nails down so there was nothing white and loose on them and probably cause another issue. What works for me is getting them long and smooth enough that they aren't tempting to me anymore. If I can just make it past the awkward growing out stage again, I'll go a while without chewing them. What makes it happen again? When the nail breaks or gets a rough spot on it. Nail polish works best for me when I get it all over the tip of the nail so it makes the nail feel smooth and I repaint it as soon as it starts to chip. Don't be afraid to make it a little messy on those stubs of fingernails. Most of it washes off, and if it works for you, who cares if it's not perfect? You'll not be biting your nails anymore!
That leads me to my next tip: using glass nail files and other means to make my nails healthier so they are less likely to break. As long as they stay smooth, I don't chew them.
Reducing stress. I know it is hard, and like most of us, I have mixed success with it, but I definitely bite my nails more when I'm stressed. When I feel calmer, it is more natural for me to not bite my nails or I am better able to talk myself out of doing it.
While I am writing this post, I have long nails. One of them broke recently. I realized a while back that when a nail is broken or bitten down low, I first start getting tempted to bite it when it's got that soft beginning part of a nail on it. I have been mindfully trying to keep myself from doing that. I grew the last two broken nails out very quickly that way. I gave in and stopped myself halfway with this second one, but I steeled myself and didn't bite it anymore and now it is getting long too.
Once I started getting long nails, I had dramatically fewer loose skin pieces to play with. So, in my experience, that naturally gets better when you address the nail biting. I hardly ever do that anymore.
I have changed my habits so much that in a very stressful time, I did bite all my fingernails down again and it felt weird. It had been so long since I'd been like that that I forgot what it felt like to be fingernail-less, how I opened food packages, and how miserable it was for your fingers to hurt because you'd chewed the nail down so low. It didn't take me long to regrow them.
People say to discover your triggers. That's very important. Learn when you bite your nails and why. Learn what makes you not bite your nails. This way you can make a plan that fits you.
Make yourself stop when it works. If you can talk yourself out of doing it, do.
Consider pampering. Paint your nails, do a manicure, go get a manicure. Even if you're not normally into that stuff. You can just get clear nail polish and make your nails smooth so it doesn't change your look.
Don't try to use your hands for meaningless stuff. It won't work. It didn't for me anyway. Do engage in more important or meaningful activities that use both of your hands.
Reduce stress however works for you. Use self-care techniques, remove a stressful element (or more) from your life, get on medication, or get therapy.
You may always be tempted, and sometimes backslide, when it comes to nail biting. If you do backslide, forgive yourself and build up the positive habit again. You can definitely dramatically lessen how often you do it and live a mostly nail biting free life.
About The Author
Hi, I'm Lara Rouse, and I'm a freelance writer. In recent years, I've developed a passion for mental health and self care, so much so that I've gone back to college to get a Psychology degree. If you just came here to read, you'll find other mental health posts on this site. If you're looking for someone to write for you, feel free to contact me.