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How To Stop Biting Your Nails And Break The Stressful Habit

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A chipped nail drives me absolutely insane. It snags at my cardigans, pantyhose and even gets caught in my curly hair. That's why I don't think it's strange to whip out a nail file from my handbag to smooth down the rough edges. But there are some people who get to the nitty-gritty with nail-biting.

While having a salon-perfect manicure is the explanation for my obsession, there are countless reasons why people bite their nails. Habit and stress can trigger an individual to nibble away, according to Dr. Carol Mathews, M.D., a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco.

She adds, "Folks look for imperfections in their nails and bite those imperfections, which lead to more imperfections and continues the cycle. In some extreme cases, nail biting becomes more of a problem -- causing infections, tissue damage, etc. This is fairly rare, but can also cause significant distress for the person, particularly if they are unable to stop."

Under these conditions, Dr. Mathews believes it could be considered a medical or psychiatric problem, falling under the category of pathological grooming behaviors. "These are extreme behaviors that cause significant impairment and distress for the person who has them, and include compulsive or pathological skin picking and compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania)."

While finding out there may be a bacteria called enterobacteriaceae living under my nails is enough to make me pause, that isn't the case for everyone.

Patience and slow, steady change is the sure way to stop nail biting, however, Dr. Mathews has a few useful tips on breaking this stressful habit:

  • Delay biting when you get the urge. First, for a few seconds, then for a minute and eventually increasing slowly. Set a timer if necessary and progressively shorten the time you "allow" yourself to bite.
  • Do a competing response like making a fist or something else with your hands that prevents you from bringing them to your mouth for one minute or until the urge goes away.
  • Try Band-Aids to cover the nails as they provide a physical reminder. They don't keep you from biting if you are motivated, but they do slow you down so that you can consciously try not to bite.
  • Bad-tasting nail polish (like this one) can also act as a deterrent to nail-biting.
  • False nails and gloves are other barrier methods that help some people.

Are you a nail biter? What techniques have you tried to give it up? Tell us in the comments section.

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