Onychophagia, the practice of biting your nails, is an easy habit to form but a tough one to stop. For many adults, nail-biting is so well-established that they barely realize they are doing it.
The problem? A nail-biting look is bad to others. In this germ-conscious world, no one wants to shake hands with a guy who’s just put his fingers in his mouth.
Still, biting your nails? Here’s the SharpGrooming scoop on breaking the habit:
Why Do You Do It?
If you want to stop biting, it helps to figure out why you do it in the first place. Common reasons include:
Old habit. Many SharpMen can trace their nail-chomping back to their shy and self-conscious teenage years. Now the process has become second nature and they do it without thinking.
Stress. Tension is one of the leading reasons people begin — and continue — to bite their nails. Biting and picking become an automatic reaction to the stress of a challenging job or a worrisome problem.
Nervousness. It is not uncommon for a SharpMan to resort to nail-biting when he is feeling nervous before that big meeting or on the way to that hot date. It can have the same psychologically soothing effect as smoking or overeating.
Post-smoking habit. Those who give up smoking often replace that habit with nail-biting — it’s something to do with the hands that would have been occupied by a cigarette.
Habit triggered by another activity. Often nail-biting will be associated with an activity such as talking on the phone or watching TV. Some people bite their nails when bored or unoccupied, e.g. sitting on the train or in the doctor’s office.
Break the Habit
By isolating why you are biting your nails — and then briefly monitoring yourself under the same conditions — you will be able to stop your hands from automatically going to your mouth at certain times. If willpower isn’t enough, consider some of the following remedies and aids:
Put a formula on your nails. There are several foul-tasting formulas on the market aimed at making your nails taste awful enough to turn you off of biting them — or at least alert you to when you do it unconsciously. Try CONTROL-IT! from MAVALA Stop. Be sure to apply the product regularly, so that the taste remains strong.
Keep your hands busy. Idle hands will only serve to fuel your habit, so keep them busy. If you’ve found that you bite your nails when you are on the telephone, keep a pad of paper by the phone and doodle with a pen instead. Or get a desktop basketball game to keep your hands busy.
If you bite your nails when you’re tense, consider adding a “stress ball” that you squeeze to your collection of desk toys and play with that instead. Or try Process Putty®, available from QPC Inc. The key is to do anything that keeps your hands busy and out of your mouth.
Chew gum or mints. If you are already chewing something else, you’ll be less likely to chew your nails (nail bits and chewing gum — eeew, bad combo). Keep gum or mints with you at all times, and when you find your hands going to your mouth, pop in a stick of gum or a mint instead.
Use nail clippers. Nail biters are always tempted to bite off a sharp edge on a nail or a nail that is a little longer than the others. Keep nail clippers with you and use those instead.
Try meditative cassettes. If all else fails, there are several meditative cassette tapes on the market that claim a high success rate in combating nail-biting habits. Try Overcoming Fingernail Biting from Mind Over Matter or Stop Biting Nails from Talk Unlimited.
Keep It Away
Address the cause. Once you discover what triggers your nail-biting, make a point of addressing that cause. If the stress in your life is the culprit, then work on reducing the stress with relaxation techniques, exercise, more sleep, a smaller workload, etc. If nervousness generally drives you to bite your nails, make a point of learning other ways to deal with nerves. Many guys use a quick (and easy and free) breathing exercise to calm themselves down throughout the day.
Form new habits. The best way to prevent a bad habit from reoccurring is to replace it with a good habit. Get into the habit of using nail clippers before your nails grow to a length that tempts you to bite. Develop the habit of linking your hands together when they are idle instead of bringing them up to your mouth.
Make nail care a priority. Now that you have stopped biting your nails, learn to take care of them. By taking pride in the look of your hands, you’ll be less likely to “fall off the wagon” and return to nail-biting. See Nail Care for Guys for more details on making your hands and nails look good enough for a handshake.