All About Nail Biting

Last winter I was consulted by a writer from Mammamia.com about nail biting, and recently a link to the article popped up on my Facebook “Memories”, so I thought I’d share it here. You can read the full article via the link bleow:

“I’ve stopped chewing my nails (well, I’m trying to). How do I heal the damage?”

I’ve decided to write a bit more to expand on this, as I am currently developing a workshop to help people stop biting their nails, without the need for professional manicurist visits.

When I refer to “nail biters”, I am using that as an umbrella term for everyone with the compulsive habit of biting or picking at their fingernails and/or the skin surrounding the nails. Nail biter statistics are roughly 28-33% of children ages 7-10, 44% of adolescents, 19-29% of young adults, and 5% of older adults.

Among my clientele, I would hazard that 20% are nail biters/cuticle pickers. This is a very high number, obviously, as nail biters seek me out knowing that I am sympathetic to their habit. Nail biters encounter a lot of potential shame when opening up about their habit. They tend to feel isolated and helpless. The cause of this habit varies from person to person, as do the triggers. Some bite their nails/pick their nails out of boredom, some out of anxiety. What seems to be common is that it is a self-soothing activity – i.e. it stimulated the reward centers in the brain causing favorable associations. Unfortunately, this then triggers a shame spiral when the activity is finished and the nail biter feels powerless to stop.

Stopping this habit involves multiple defenses such as cultivating self-awareness (mindfulness exercises/meditation), which helps you to identify your triggers (boredom/anxiety/dry skin/ragged nails), distraction (play a game on your phone/make a cup of tea), and replacing the nail biting habit with a positive habit (apply a pleasantly scented cuticle oil or hand cream when the urge to bite/pick strikes). These are all small things that go a long way towards breaking the nail biting habit. Everyone’s nail biting triggers are different and recovery will be different for each person. Some reward themselves with a professional manicure after a month of no biting while others need a manicure at the start to keep themselves on track.
It’s also important to be compassionate and forgiving to yourself if you start biting again. Check in with yourself and use the nail biting as a barometer of your current emotional state.

Erin Margrethe of Blonde Tiger will be running in-depth workshops soon on how to stop nail biting/skin picking – please check back soon for details.

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