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Nail Biting: How To Stop

By HERWriter
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Skin, Hair & Nails related image Photo: Getty Images

I was a nail biter until I went to high school. As a child, my mother tried to paint my nails with tincture of iodine so they would taste bad if I bit them. It didn’t help. Somehow in high school I just stopped. I don’t know how or why.

Nail biting is more common in childhood and often diminishes as we reach adulthood. According to the Washington Post, approximately one third of children ages seven to ten and over 40 percent of adolescents bite their nails. By adulthood, the rate drops to 10 to 20 percent but that is still a lot of people who continue to the nail biting habit.

The reasons for nail biting are varied. Originally, it was thought to be some type of Freudian oral fixation. Others believe it is due to a psychological reason such as anxiety. Some think it is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder as some people with other issues, such as trichotillomania, also tend to bite their nails.

Newer theories contemplate whether nail biting has genetic roots since it often runs in families. Still others imply it may be a behavioral learned action of exaggerated grooming which has been observed in chimps. Overall, the reasons for nail biting are not that clear and may be different for different people.

How to stop:

Many people find they can stop biting their nails by using various behavioral modification techniques. This can be implemented on your own or with the help of someone you trust.

The first step is to make yourself acutely aware of every time you bite your nails. You may want to keep a journal and write down those situations or places that trigger your desire to bite them. Perhaps it is when you are working on the computer or if you are nervous about giving a presentation or even when you are just bored.

Next, decide what you can do to avoid the triggers or come up with a different behavior to replace the act of biting your nails. Some people use relaxation techniques or repeat a mantra to themselves “I will not bite my nails” ten times to block the urge to bite.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.