Breaking the nail-biting habit

SINCE my childhood days, I have always bitten my nails. It is a bad habit and I've been chided often by grown-ups and toddlers alike. Not only does nail-biting mean stubby fingers without the graceful display of groomed nails, it is also without doubt unhygienic and frankly, quite gross.

I know all of the facts, so why do I keep nibbling away? Throughout the years, I have tried various ways to break this habit. There have been adventures with chilli, bitter creams and nail polish, all of which were successful only for a time.
This habit has not helped me in any way, other than provide weird and temporary comfort. In fact, it's been something I'm quite ashamed of, especially on formal occasions when I'm all dressed up. I become extremely self-conscious and attempt to hide my fingers from view.

In recent weeks, I realised I'd been biting my nails a lot more than usual and one night, I decided it was time to break this habit once and for all. First, it was important to understand the science behind my nail-biting activity, so I did some digging.

Nail-biting has intrigued researchers, psychologists and medical professionals for many years, and several theories have been thrown on the table. Neurologist Sigmund Freud attributed it to our mothers' nursing patterns, leading to a tendency to put something into our mouths.

A study in 1990 listed out other suggested reasons as stress, imitation of behaviour, heredity and nails not well-manicured. There have also been suggestions that people bite their nails as a form of self-harm because they're unhappy with themselves, or because of obsessive compulsive disorder.

More recently, studies have emerged supporting nail-biting as a form of distraction and even pleasure, tying this activity to emotions and experiences. The theory also suggests that perfectionists are more likely to engage in body-focused repetitive activities, such as nail biting and skin picking.

As a biter I have to admit there's some truth for me in this theory, being an emotional person and a perfectionist. Hopefully, this knowledge will help me break the habit.

Now that I recognise its connection to my emotional state and orderly tendencies, what can I do? If you're a fellow biter, there may have been times when you wondered the same thing. While there are different approaches, they fall into two main categories: prevention and replacement.

Prevention methods would be to apply bitter-tasting clear nail polish for a nasty experience every time we start, wearing gloves or putting stickers over our nails. These act as an additional barrier, and may work for some.

For those with extra cash to spend, dermatologists suggest going for regular manicures as spending money on your nails will make you think twice before putting finger to mouth. Alternatively, they suggest keeping trimmed nails so we simply have nothing to bite.

The replacement method, on the other hand, asks us to consider finding a different activity to consciously engage in whenever we feel like biting our nails. These could be folding paper, playing with a fidget spinner or even rubbing the corners of a pillow. The goal is to replace our bad habit with a non-destructive one.

Honestly, I've tried most of the methods above and still struggle with the habit. Perhaps the key is a combination of all plus a gigantic dose of self-will and determination. Like any bad habit, nail-biting isn't easy to break and I hope I eventually succeed.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com