Nail-biting. It's a weird habit. Not as gross as nose-picking or as dangerous as smoking, but strange nonetheless.
What drives people to chew
on their hands? It's common among children, but I know quite a few adults who also bite to the quick; I sometimes wonder if there's something yummy about fingernails that I'm missing.
There are other fidgety habits, of course, and a lot of us have them. I, for example, rub my hands and fingers together until the skin peels off, and obsessively pick those little lint balls off sweaters.
While all these behaviours may be harmless, they can be annoying.
Some say they can also tell us about ourselves.
Cool. But how do we stop?
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Nail-biting is an adaptive behaviour that at some point in time was a brilliant strategy the subconscious adopted to deal with whatever was happening. Maybe kids start nail-biting because they hear a lot of arguments between Mom and Dad. Are they absorbing tension in the household? These little habits, if handled with consciousness, can be doorways into a much deeper understanding of ourselves. A hypnotherapist can guide you into a trance state to see if there is a place where you are stuck in childhood, or maybe just work with positive suggestions - the sort of images you need to kick this habit."
LAURIE WEINBERG , master hypnotherapist, Toronto
"Nail-biting can be stress-related, in which case the best strategy is to work on ways to manage stress. People often resort to self-destructive methods: alcohol, illegal drugs or prescriptions. But I encourage stress management skills. There's a quick measure of such skills at www.mystressmanagementskills.com . Sometimes nail-biting is just a grooming problem. Many people bite because the nails arent smooth and the edges are bothersome. I call the solution the 50-nail-file cure. You buy lots of cheap nail files and put them everywhere . Whenever a ragged edge bothers you, file rather than pick or bite."
ROBERT EPSTEIN , director emeritus, Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, Concord, Massachusetts; West Coast editor, Psychology Today; contributing editor, Scientific American
"First off, what doesn't work terribly well is putting something bad-tasting on your nails. What does work is something called habit reversal . This involves doing something similar but different. So instead of biting your nails, perhaps you make a fist. You're still using your hand, but you're using it to do something different. You commit to a so-called competing response. You could do almost anything with your hand: squeeze your knee, sit on your hand, drum your fingers, push your fingers up against your teeth without actually biting them. It's insane the amount of research that has been done, and it's quite a shame because the dissemination of this information has been very incomplete. It works for nail-biting, hair-pulling and picking and can eliminate habits over just a couple of days. In order to get into the new habit, you have to practise it in the absence of the urge, ideally in front of a mirror."
GREG DUBORD , professor of cognitive therapy, University of Toronto
"Moving toward a whole-food diet and eliminating dietary sensitivities are important for reducing stress on the body that leads to nervous habits. Meditation and relaxation or deep breathing exercises are very helpful, as is talking to a counsellor . I also use traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture .
Educating patients about the negative effects of nail-biting is also important. These include gum and nail bed infections and scarring.
Addressing nutritional deficiencies that lead to weak nails and hang-nails is useful. There are some theories that nail-biting stems from intestinal parasites, which can be tested for with stool cultures and blood analysis.-
VANESSA LEE , naturopath, Toronto