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Here’s the science behind why you bite your nails and how you can stop

Published on:18 February 2021, 16:25pm IST
If you’ve been biting your nails ever since you were a child, then it’s important to understand the reasons behind it. We’ve also got you some tips to get rid of nail biting!
nail biting
Nail biting often starts when you are a child, and carries on in adulthood. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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You might have come across several people who bite their nails, or you may be one of them! It may look harmless but this behaviour actually has a name. It’s called onychophagia. Now, we aren’t saying it’s a cause of concern for everyone who indulges in it. Many people, in fact, pick it up as a habit in childhood and outgrow it with age. There are, however, cases when nail biting becomes a lifelong habit, and that’s when you need to take notice.

So, why is it that some people bite their nails, and what is the best way to get rid of this habit? We’re here to tell you all about it.

Why do people bite their nails?

Nail biting is a habit that many develop in childhood, and may become more prominent upon reaching adolescence. There isn’t a particular reason why people make a habit of nail biting, but these could be some probable causes: 

  • If you are impatient, frustrated or bored, nail biting becomes a way to keep yourself occupied
  • Sometimes, you do not even realise it and engage in nail biting when you are doing something with the utmost concentration
  • It could also be a sign that you are anxious or nervous, and nail biting gives you temporary relief 
  • In certain cases, it could be a symptom of mental health conditions like ADHD, major depressive disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and separation anxiety disorder, amongst others
nail biting
Biting nails can be much more than just a ‘habit’. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
What are the risks of nail biting?

If you bite your nails often, then you could damage the cuticle and the tissue around it. Although there’s no long-term damage, you could experience some soreness around the nails and surrounding skin. You could have abnormal-looking nails, fungal infections in the nails and surrounding tissue, illness due to passing bacteria from your fingers to your face and mouth, harm to teeth, and joint pain and dysfunction in certain cases. 

What’s more, if you swallow bitten-off nails, you put yourself at a higher risk of stomach and intestinal infections.

What is the best way to stop nail biting?

First of all, it is important to remember that giving up on any habit takes time. So, you need to be patient with yourself. If you’ve been trying to quit nail biting but haven’t been successful, here’s what you need to try: 

  • Trim your nails often. When you invest time in taking care of your nails, you will not be tempted to bite them. You could also get regular manicures because when you spend money on your nails, you wouldn’t want to spoil them.

    nail biting
    Keep your fingernails trimmed. Image: Shutterstock
  • You could coat your nails with bitter polish because if you insert your nails into your mouth, the taste will make you uncomfortable. This is a good idea to get rid of nail biting!

  • Cover your nails by wearing gloves. Of course, this is only a temporary idea.

  • Try and analyse what makes you bite your nails, and try and eliminate the root cause. It will help you stay away from nail biting in the long run.

  • Replace this habit with something else such as chewing gum. You could also occupy yourself with a stress ball or fidget magnet.

  • Last but not the least, take small steps to quit this habit. Don’t expect that you will magically transform, because giving up on bad habits takes some time. 

If you think that these tips aren’t helping you, then it’s a good idea to visit a therapist in order to find professional help.

Geetika Sachdev Geetika Sachdev

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town.