Most of us have been guilty of gnawing at our fingernails, be it out of anxiety or habit, at some point in our lives. Does the act itself signify anything serious or could it lead to further problems? Here are a few facts on nail-biting, and some tips on tackling the habit.

Why does nail biting occur?

The origins are nail biting is debated. Causes have been attributed to psychological, acquired or familial factors, including a possibility of genetic influence. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, it is classified under ‘obsessive-compulsive and related disorders’.

Psychologically stable people can also develop the habit, but it is more frequently linked to loss of control of difficult tasks. Medscape lists psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and mood swings, along the lines of a coping mechanism. On the contrary, it has also been shown to be triggered by low levels of stimulation as well – boredom, inactivity, low self-esteem and even hunger!

Does biting your nails cause any permanent damage?

Biting your nails frequently can leave it red, sore and prone to repeated infections. Microorganisms can also travel from your hands to your mouth without your realizing it, putting you at risk of infections of the gut and other systems as well. Besides, the repeated biting and chewing action can affect the way your teeth are aligned and cause dental problems as well.

Moreover, bitten fingernails and its appearance itself can be a source of embarrassment and anxiety, fueling a vicious cycle. Although essentially harmless, it is definitely recommended to kick the habit.

What can you do to get rid of the habit?

In most cases, nail biting isn’t a major problem and resolve by itself. However, if you’re excessively worried because of it, here are some tips that can help:

  • Trim and file your nails neatly. Get regular manicures. Attractive and clean hands can deter you from the prospect of disfiguring the appearance of your fingers.
  • If your habit is due to stress, practice stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation and yoga.
  • Wearing gloves or band-aids over your fingers can serve as a reminder against the habit. Alternatively, you can flick a rubber a band on your wrist or follow similar practices that use mild pain to discourage you from automatically getting back into the habit.
  • Find substitutes like chewing gum, or squeezing a stress ball, that can distract you from the same.

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