Nail-biting is frequently associated with anxiety, because the act of chewing on nails reportedly relieves stress, tension, or boredom.
Many people have the tendency to bite their fingernails, a condition known as Onychophagia which, according to the the American Psychiatric Association (APA)’s DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), is “compulsive and repetitive in nature”.
According to the APA, a disorder is characterised as obsessive-compulsive when an individual has “unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations (obsessions) that make them driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).”
What causes nail biting?
Nail biting typically begins in childhood and may accelerate during adolescence. It’s not always clear why someone develops this particular habit, but once it starts, it can be difficult to manage.
Impatience, frustration, boredom
Once nail biting becomes a habit, it can become your go-to behavior when you’re waiting around, frustrated, or just plain bored. It’s something you do to keep yourself occupied.
Sometimes, it’s just an absentminded tendency rather than a conscious choice during moments of intense concentration. You might not be aware that you’re biting your nails while trying to work out a problem.
Biting your nails can be a nervous habit, possibly an effort to find temporary relief from stress and anxiety.
Emotional or psychological problems
Nail biting can be associated with mental health conditions, such as:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- major depressive disorder (MDD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- oppositional defiant disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
- Tourette syndrome
Not everyone with these disorders bites their nails. By the same token, biting your nails doesn’t mean you have a psychological disorder.
What can be done?
Various home measures such as using a mouth guard, painting the nails with a bitter nail polish, keeping the nails short or using the traditional remedy of applying bitter oil on nails are often used to get rid of this habit.
One can also use the following methods
*Keep the nails short and manicured so that the temptation is less.
*Try wearing gloves at night or when you are alone so that you cannot bite nails
*Identify the triggers
*Instead of chewing nails, replace the habit with chewing gum or fennel.
There are many treatments available for onychophagia and for a permanent solution it is best to consult a doctor.
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