How To Stop Biting Your Nails For Good

Wouldn't it be great if you could snap your fingers and stop biting your nails on command? If you're a nail-biter, you're not alone. Approximately 20-30% of the population bites their nails habitually, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment. The good news is that there are ways to stop biting your nails for good!

The medical term for nail biting is onychophagia, also called onychophagy, and in the DSM-5 is classified under "Other Specified Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders" with the specific listing written as "body-focused repetitive behavior disorder" (per Psychology Today). But even for those who don't experience compulsive nail-biting, the occasional nail-biting can still make its appearance during particularly stressful or anxiety-driven times.

Healthline reports that the habit can lead to abnormal nail growth, tooth and oral damage, and injury to tissue that helps nails grow. People who bite their nails are more susceptible to becoming sick from colds or other ailments because bacteria, viruses, and other agents can be transferred from fingers to mouth. Here's how you can stop nail biting for good. 

Identify your triggers

The first step in stopping a nail-biting habit is to figure out why you bite your nails and if there are triggers that prompt you to chew on your nails. For many people, nail-biting can be a sign of underlying anxiety, stress, or even boredom, according to Cedars-Sinai. Nail-biting habits often begin in childhood, so think back to times during your youth when you may have been prone to bite your nails, like before a school exam or on weekends when you felt bored. Many of the triggers of nail-biting that begin in childhood continue into adulthood, so try keeping a journal where you write down how you feel when you find yourself biting your nails to identify patterns and triggers.

If there's underlying anxiety, stress, or another emotional trigger, then working with a therapist can help mitigate the root cause, notes Healthline. Moreover, there is a form of behavioral therapy called Habit Reversal Training (HRT) that can help break nail-biting and other habits, according to Nationwide Children's Hospital. A key component of HRT is finding a way to redirect the action of nail-biting. You may do this by utilizing a fidget toy, stress ball, silly putty, or other object. Over-the-counter bitter-tasting nail polishes are available to discourage nail-biting, which can help someone notice when they're biting and allow them to redirect their energy with a fidget tool. Some children bite their nails for extra brain stimulation, so finding ways to maintain engagement can prevent nail-biting.

Invest in your nails

As you take steps to break your nail-biting habit, finding ways to invest in your nails and take pride in them can reinforce positive habit replacement, per the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Getting manicures can serve a dual purpose because they result in well-groomed, attractive nails, while also discouraging nail-biting because of the money you spent on the treatment. At-home manicures can be effective too, especially if you invest in a nail polish you really like. Other habit-breaking hacks include covering your nails with stickers, bandages, gloves, or tape to prevent easy access to the nail and surrounding skin. Alternatively, you could keep your nails trimmed short.

Be kind to your nails while also being kind to yourself. Nationwide Children's Hospital says that the phrases "knock it off!" and "stop that!" can actually have negative effects on nail-biting and increase feelings of shame. Punishments, including self-punishment, can result in nail-biting becoming worse. Instead, show yourself compassion and know that the cessation of a habit isn't something that happens immediately. It's natural to experience slip-ups when trying to end a nail-biting habit. A code word or signal that loved ones can say to you when they catch you biting your nails can also be helpful. Try to set goals for yourself, like not biting your nails for a week, and celebrate these milestones as you aim to stop nail-biting for good.