Are you a nail-biter? Do you know someone who bites their nails? Then, this article is for you! Nail-biting as the name suggests, is the act of biting one’s fingernails. It is a seemingly simple behavior that most people engage in during their childhood, and fewer continue in their adulthood. However, the etymology behind nail-biting tells a whole different story. I know what you’re thinking. It’s just biting nails. So, what really is the big deal? Over the past couple of years, doctors and researchers have conducted a number of studies regarding it, and the results reveal a plethora of surprising information. Nail-biting is a very common act, with around 25-30% children engaging in it. And while biting nails itself doesn’t seem so wrong, it is the consequences one has to be careful of.
Nail-biting can lead to a number of problems both physical and psychological. It can cause infection to either the fingers or the nails, or both! Many nail-biters have the habit of biting the surrounding skin off. This is known as dermatophagia, a compulsive disorder that includes nibbling at one’s own skin. Not only can this harm the cuticle, but it can lead to damage of the nailbed, thus resulting in viral infections. In worst-case scenarios, fingers can become deformed! On the other hand, psychological problems encase awkward social interactions where nail-biters feel conscious of their hands, and make active attempts to hide them. A visit to the Best Psychiatrist in Karachi can also help individuals identify similar instances!
Although nail-biting seems like a normal act, psychologists reveal that there are entire thought processes and causes behind it. On a physical level, nail-biting can be described as a parafunctional activity, that is, the use of the mouth for something other than speaking, eating and drinking. It can be done to satisfy the need to always keep one’s mouth engaged in activity. Another reason for this can also be oral problems. Placating gum itching, and other related issues can be a major cause of nail-biting. But the bigger causes are psychological. Nail-biting is a compulsive act, and oftentimes, individuals are unaware that they are engaging in it. Like shaking one’s leg, or wringing hands, nail-biting can be seen as a behavior associated with anxiety, where the individual finds some sort of relief in picking their skin or nails with their teeth. It helps them calm down, keep their emotions in check, and ultimately have more control over their feelings.
Nail-biting can also serve as an activity to engage in while bored, allowing the individual to feel like they are doing something. On the other end of the spectrum, it can distract them from an overwhelming situation. Since nail-biting mostly begins from childhood, it is consolidated as a habit that a lot of people find hard to leave because of the comfort and satisfaction they find in it.
Since nail-biting has severe consequences, it is important to try and get rid of this habit. A lot of parents find that putting some sort of bitter concoction, like Aloe Vera juice, on children’s fingertips stops them from biting nails, because of the unpleasant taste. For adults, it is better to sit down and identify the moments when they are prone to engage in it. If they find it difficult to pen these instances down, a visit to a psychiatrist or psychologist is also a good option. These individuals are trained at guiding people and helping them understand why they do what they do.
Once an individual is able to recognise the triggers that lead them to nail-bite, they can replace this habit with another activity. A few examples can be using a stress ball, or a yoyo, to relieve anxiety. If the anxiety seems uncontrollable, it would be a good idea to see specialists who can help find ways to overcome it. One of the best ways to overcome anxiety can be meditation, and breathing exercises. They help clear the mind, and over time, individuals can learn to control thoughts filtering through it.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it is essential to understand that habits are formed over a period of time. Naturally, breaking them takes time as well. So, give yourself time. The finish line is almost there, and you? You can do it!