Why do people bite their nails? Nail biting is a surprisingly common habit that develops gradually in childhood. This behavior seems easy to stop, but unfortunately, it is not.
It usually starts in childhood days at the age of 3 or 4. Sometimes, it may begin in adolescence as well. There are rare cases when adults bite their nails.
The clinical name for such body-focused repetitive behaviors is Onychophagia (nail biting). A study from ResearchGate gives you information on the frequency of nail biting per day in children. Let’s look at the science behind nail-biting behaviors and ways to stop nail-biting.
1. Psychology of Nail Biting
Have you ever seen someone biting their nails continuously? If yes, what do you think is the psychology behind it? Discover it here.
1.1 Why Do People Bite Their Nails?
Nail biting is a temporary, non-destructive body-focused repetitive behavior due to psychiatric co-morbidity that might develop into a long-term chronic nail-biting habit.
Why do people bite their nails? Psychologists say that nail biting can provide a temporary escape, distraction, pleasure, or relaxation to the nail biters.
Other triggers for those who habitually bite their nails are impatience, frustration, or boredom with some activity and trying to get rid of it.
Biting your nails can also be due to nervousness, which would give temporary relief from anxiety or stress. This behavior can also help people cope with challenging emotions. Intensive concentration to work on a particular problem also results in absentminded behavior to bite your nails.
A few other emotional and psychological problems that can be associated with the nail bite habit are as follows:
1.1.1 Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental abnormality that faces obsessions and compulsions and is prone to repetitive behavior of unwanted thoughts.
1.1.2 Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is a clinical depression where one experiences persistent sadness and intense irritability that affects physical body functions.
1.1.3 Tourette Syndrome
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological tic disorder that involves involuntary muscle cramps and vocal outbursts with sudden twitching of a group of muscles.
1.1.4 Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation Anxiety Disorder is an extravagant anxiety that happens when separated from loved people or pets and occurs in babies and adults.
1.1.5 Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a mental abnormality of childhood. It involves frequent disruptive behavior with frustration, irritability, and disobedience.
1.1.6 Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition with hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.
2. Symptoms of Nail Biting
Why do people bite their nails? Onychophagia, the medical name for excessive nail biting, often causes damage to fingernails and the surrounding skin.
It occurs with other BFRBs (Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors) like, hair pulling (called Trichotillomania) or skin picking (called excoriation disorder). People who have such chronic nail-biting experience the following symptoms:
Feeling uneasy or tense before biting.
Feeling relieved or pleased after biting.
A feeling of stress, guilt, and anxiety looking at the appearance of the nails and skin after biting.
Guilty of others looking at the nails after bites.
Damage to tissues, fingers, and cuticles.
Mouth injuries, dental problems, and other infections.
3. Causes of Nail Biting
Why do people bite their nails? Does that provide any pleasure or some distraction from stress or anxiety?
Psychologists say there would be inherited genetic links from parents or other family members. Kids whose parents bite their nails are likely to follow the habit, although parents stop the behavior.
It also depends on the mood and other disorders in the immediate family. Also, it has a neurological connection with various mental disorders. Biting your nails in adulthood may be a side effect of medication.
4. Side Effects of Nail Biting
Why do people bite their nails? What are its after-effects? Although nail biting is less dangerous, it alters nail growth by causing structural changes below the cuticle. Hence, it makes the nails grow weirdly.
Most nail-biters do not usually face long-term damage, but there is a probability that it may happen. The possible side-effects of nail-biting are:
Soreness of fingernails and the surrounding skin.
Skin infections and fungal infections to the nail plate.
Mouth pain and tooth damage.
Besides, nails and fingers contain bacteria and viruses that transmit them to the body. So, individuals who swallow bitten nails have risks of stomach and intestinal infections.
5. What to Do to Stop Biting Your Nails?
Why do people bite their nails? The habit of chewing nails since childhood, then it can be tough to stop biting them and break them in a day. Here we list the best tips to quit nail biting.
5.1 Trim Nails Often
Long nails make you irresistible to bite nails often. So, trim your nails regularly by setting a proper timetable for a specific day every week. An alternative is to get a manicure done in a parlor.
5.2 Cover the Nail
Cover your nails by wearing gloves to avoid biting. But this isn’t always practically possible. You can use retainer style or bite plate devices inside the mouth to hinder nail biting.
5.3 Check for Triggers
Think over what triggers you to bite your nail. Once you know the reason, you can manage the triggers effectively. It serves as a reminder to curb it.
5.4 Use Bitter Nail Polish
Specific nail polishes are available for those who struggle to avoid nail biting. They are not harmful when you put nails in the mouth but have a bitter taste. With this nasty taste, you will have second thoughts about nail biting.
5.5 Replace Nail Biting With Alternate Activity
It’s better to have a substitute to keep your hands busy with an alternate activity. Chewing gum will keep your mouth occupied, but if overdone, it may result in dental or jaw problems. Also, squeezing a stress ball, using a worry stone, or silly putty can keep your hands engaged.
5.6 Taking a Gradual Approach
You cannot stop biting your nails just suddenly overnight. Start with one nail and stick to it until you stop biting. Then focus on another nail and continue further to break the habit.
5.7 Social Support
Conversing with a close friend when you crave to bite your nail can help to get out of stressful times and quit biting.
6. Professional Treatment for Nail Biting Prevention
In severe cases of nail-biting behaviors, it is preferable to opt for professional treatment. The TLC Foundation provides a lot of support groups, medical and therapeutic providers, and self-care providers to treat nail biting.
6.1 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
During Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a therapist will help identify unusual behavior patterns and replace them with contrasting behaviors. This therapy is effective with a fixed number of sessions and an action plan.
6.2 Habit Reversal Training (HRT)
In Habit Reversal Training (HRT), the therapist will get awareness about your biting triggers, identify replacement behaviors, and encourage social support. HRT has proven as an effective treatment for short-term BFRBs.
7. Seeking Medical Assistance
Mild issues with nail-biting do not require any treatment. It is appropriate to meet a doctor and seek help when you face problems such as:
Infection of nails and skin.
Discoloration and bleeding around the nails.
Pain and swelling around nails.
Nails stopped growth.
Nail thinning and thickening.
Why do people bite their nails? Nail biting usually starts in childhood and continues till adulthood to become a repetitive behavior and a lifelong habit. Usually, nail-biting does not require medical care, but chronic nail-biting leads to nail infections and other problems.
Be gentle with yourself, analyze the cause of nail biting, follow the tips and strategies described above, and prevent self-harm.
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