5 Ways to Stop Nail Biting

Expert tips to help you quit this addictive - and not very attractive - habit.
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5 Ways to Stop Nail Biting

Expert tips to help you quit this addictive – and not very attractive – habit.

-Rachel Grumman

Woman biting her nails

Nail biting may not be pretty, but it sure is popular – and addictive. Up to 30 percent of adults bite their nails, according to Penny Donnenfeld, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York City and a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association.

“As children we put our fingers in our mouths – it’s a tactile way of self-soothing,” she says. That pattern persists even after we’ve grown up: People usually nibble on their nails out of anxiety or as a mindless distraction. “There tends to be a pattern behind the biting,” says Donnenfeld. “Ask yourself, ‘What are you doing when you bite your nails?’ and ‘How are you feeling at those times?’”

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Knowing what your triggers are can help you choose successful quitting strategies. Although it seems harmless, there’s a good reason to stop that goes beyond mangled nails: “You have all kinds of germs and bacteria on your hands and under your nails and you’re putting them in your mouth,” notes Donnenfeld. What’s more, biting breaks the skin’s protective barrier, allowing in bacteria that can lead to an infection. Here’s how to nip the bad habit in the bud:

Soothe yourself. Since anxiety is a common nail-biting trigger, find other ways to get calm. Try taking a series of deep breaths or doing some stretching exercises when you feel stressed. Guided imagery can help you relax: Close your eyes and imagine a pleasing place you’ve been to, like a beach on a Caribbean island. Focus on how the place feels, smells, and sounds. You can also try writing down what’s making you anxious or calling a close friend to dish about it. “You want to try to sort through what’s bothering you,” says Donnenfeld.

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