I remember doing an art project at the age of six for the Daisy Scouts (similar to the Girls Scouts, but no outdoor activities) and being so nervous around the short tempered leader that I bit my nails until they bled. Eventually she noticed, yelled at me and told me to sit in a corner until my mother picked me up. I suppose in a parallel universe it could had helped me kick my habit, but instead I hid it better.
Years went by and my little nubs stayed raw. In high school, I was a procrastinator and a perfectionist. The self-imposed stress paid it’s dues on my nails. When I ran out of nail I moved onto my cuticles. After awhile I would get sick of it and declare to myself “No more! I’m stopping forever!” but without enough commitment I was stuck in a constant cycle of temporary repair and destruction. This continued until I was 25.
I believe part of the reason I (and many people) get away with it for so long is because nobody looks that close at you. Unless it affects them, people have to go out of their way to glance at your hands. Raggedy edges can be painted in a way to hide the gory details. Hands can be easily positioned to hide; curl your fingers under or shove them in your pockets. People will never notice.
A few years ago I made the final effort to quit (not working retail helped a lot!) but it wasn’t even until a recent stressful event that a I realized how much I’d grown past it. Stressful situations can bring you back to your childlike reactions but when my fingernail found it’s way to my mouth I did nothing. Part of it might be age, the pressure in the future of wanting to be professional often motivates people out of childhood habits (I’m sure Patrick Bateman’s nails were always impeccable). No matter what motivates you to want to stop, here are some suggestions to speed up the process:
Here is what helped me get out of my bad habit physically:
- Become a habitual nail clipper – Keep a clipper at you desk, in your bag, in your car, anywhere that you spend long amounts of time. When that nail breaks or snags something just clip it. When you stick you fingernail in your mouth, take it out and clip that nail. Over time you will notice your nails getting stronger, making them less likely to peel and harder to chew on.
- Drink water – It seems like whenever it comes to the human body the advice in the end is ‘you need to drink more water’. Figure out how much water your body needs in a day and commit! You’ll notice your nails grow stronger overtime and less brittle (and if you weren’t drinking enough water before you’ll notice a lot of other great improvements).
- Oil, Oil, Oil – The key to strong and healthy nails? Hydration! Grab your coconut oil and apply it to your nails and cuticles at least twice a day. Or get some nail oil pens and oil on the bus. When you are watching your favorite show oil up those cuticles. When you are thinking about biting, oil up. While you are at it, find the good lotion with hydrating ingredients you’ll be thankful in the long run.
- Keep them pretty or keep them plain, find what works for you – For some, a great manicure is good prevention tactic. Investing in your nails and having a beautiful reminder of what you are going for helps. For me, the moment the nail polish chipped I’d gnaw away so keeping my nails clean and polish free worked better (nothing to hide behind either).
Here is what helped me get out of my bad habit mentally (aka, the hard part):
- Commit – You are not that person anymore! Nope, that’s not you. You don’t bite your nails. It is not a description in your character profile.
- Figure out what triggers you – Stress, boredom, hunger, pain? Get to the source of it all and address it.
- Be mindful of yourself – Nervous twitches, picking, biting often happen in a stressed out daze. If you are feeling stressed and your eyes are starting glaze over, stop! Pull yourself out of it. Bring yourself back to the present and remind yourself of your goal.
- Don’t do it alone – This might not work for everyone but having someone call me out helped! Let your mother, sister, best friend, or grandpa know. The embarrassment of failing and positive encouragement can help you curb the habit. For online support: /r/calmhands and /r/compulsiveskinpicking
- Replace the negative habit triggers – For some, yoga helps; for others, meditation; for me, it’s dancing. Find a stress relieving activity that works for you. Doing something positive for yourself will have a greater impact on your whole life.
- Don’t be hard on yourself – Breaking a habit that you’ve probably been doing your entire life is hard! There will be ups and downs but a slip up is never a reason to give up entirely.
- Be patient – New strong nails won’t grow in overnight, but if you fully commit you’ll be thankful in the long run.
I’m sure you’ve read the infinite amount of suggestions online: bitter nail polish, gloves, behavioral therapy, etc. My tips may be nothing that new, but hopefully you can pick something out of this list to stop your habit for good. If you are in the deep end it’s going to be a long journey, but just remember the journey has an end. You aren’t the kid you used to be and you can make it~