Ask the doctor: Why can’t I stop biting my nails?

Q. I can’t seem to stop biting my nails even though I know they look bad and get noticed by everyone at work. Is there something wrong with me? What should I do?

nail biting scared anxiety 200x300 Ask the doctor: Why cant I stop biting my nails? PhotoA. During the added stress of the holidays, bad habits tend to surface or increase. The first and biggest step is admitting that your habit of nail biting has gotten out of control. I applaud you on acknowledging the problem.

The thing is, you are not alone. Everyone has bitten his or her nails at some time. Research demonstrates that 60 percent of children bite their nails and almost half of teenagers do as well. While this generally stops after the teenage years, some adults still persist out of habit.

Cause of Nail Biting

Excluding a broken nail that you are trying to remove, the root of this habit stems from:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Loneliness
  • Boredom
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Attention Deficit disorder

 

Results

Kicking this habit not only helps with appearance, boosting self-esteem and social acceptance; it cuts down on the risks that it poses to our health.

There are several harmful effects of nail biting including:

  • Injury to teeth – causing misalignment, cracking enamel, weakening the structure or integrity
  • Infections around nails and cuticles
  • Risk of transporting bacteria to the mouth and threat of infection
  • Soreness of fingers
  • Embarrassment

 

Treatments

The first action you can take is analyzing what it is that is causing stress (and remove it or correct the problem). Make a record of when you have bitten your nails in the past and keep a journal.

1) There are several activities that help decrease stress (and thereby decrease nail biting) including:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga/Pilates
  • Dance Exercise/Zumba/Salsa
  • Tai Chi

2) Treat yourself to a manicure so that your nails look attractive. This may include gel tips or fake nails. Paint the nails with a solution that tastes and smells bad to detour you from placing your nails near your mouth.

3) Keep your hands busy:

  • Squeeze a stress ball
  • Snap a rubber band
  • Place hands in pockets
  • Fiddle with a penny
  • Twiddle your thumbs

4) Keep your mouth busy:

  • Chew gum
  • Suck on a breath mint
  • Run your tongue around the inside of your teeth
  • Drink water
  • Crunch on an apple, carrot or other crisp fruit

You don’t have to stop biting immediately. Think about the positive actions that you are going to take, envision yourself with beautiful hands and enviable nails, and set a stop date on your calendar.

Keep your nails clean, buff them and keep an emery board handy so that you can file any broken or frayed nails before you have the urge to even them out by biting. Take vitamins and maintain a healthy diet so that nails grow and repair themselves. Include foods rich in calcium and magnesium to the menu.

Studies show that for something to become natural, you must perform this action for 21 consecutive days. Do this and reward yourself for good behavior. Remember, you are in it for the long haul.

Before you know it, you will have ditched the bad habit and your nails will appear lustrous and graceful – something that everyone will envy!

Do you have a question for the Vitals doctor? Submit it to askthedoctor@vitals.com