If 2020 taught us anything, we would have received a crash course in proper hand hygiene. Before this year, many of us thought we were treating our hands and fingers like professionals, but let’s face it, a lot of us had less than ideal habits. Maybe you shortened the 20 second hand washing rule, or you had clean hands, but they used them to touch your face and keep rubbing your eyes. And there are those who, no matter how we try, cannot figure out how to stop biting our nails.
If you’re one of those nail-biting people (like me), you’ve probably discovered this: Nail biting doesn’t stop just because we want to. My guess? While much is at stake in the face of the new coronavirus pandemic, many of us may find it difficult not to nibble on our nubby nails from time to time. You̵
Why do people bite their nails?
You may not know this, but nail biting falls under a list of behaviors known as body-focused repetitive disorders (or BFRDs). These are the little habits we have (think pulling our hair or pecking our skin), if done frequently enough, can cause harm. As SELF previously reported, it’s not entirely clear why some people have BFRDs, but there are known triggers. SELF previously reported that these triggers fall into five main categories: There are sensory triggers, which can be anything that evokes the senses (taste, touch, sight, smell, or hearing). They could be triggered by certain thoughts or beliefs (these are called cognitive triggers). You could bite your nails when faced with something called a motor trigger, which involves postures and movements that you perform (that you may not even notice). Even specific spots can cause your nail nibbling to occur more frequently (these are known as setting triggers).
Is nail biting really that bad?
Here’s the thing: some viruses live on surfaces, and if we touch those places (like doorknobs or subway rails) and touch our eyes, nose or mouth, we run the risk of those germs getting into our bodies, Philip Tierno , Ph .D., Microbiologist and clinical professor of pathology at NYU Langone, previously told SELF. It doesn’t go without saying that biting your nails will make you sick more often than those who don’t, but putting your fingers in your mouth is doing your immune system a disservice.
But even if you don’t think about germs, biting your fingernails can damage your nail bed as well, explains the Mayo Clinic. This can result in tiny cuts that increase the risk of bacteria and fungus hanging out and causing infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. According to the Mayo Clinic, biting your fingernails can damage your teeth as well. All of this means that it is best not to put your fingernails in your mouth. So how does that work you might ask?
There are things you can do to stop biting your nails.
Getting a cold turkey may be possible for some people, but many people need strategies to manage it. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) tips are a good place to start. They offer a mix of practical strategies as well as mental exercises that can help you. Some of the strategies recommended by AADA include, for example, identifying your nail biting triggers, keeping your nails short, and taking a step-by-step approach (like in: Just Work on Stopping One Fingernail). AADA also explains that nail biting can be a sign of emotional or psychological distress. So, if you’ve tried to stop biting your fingernails and you can’t, it can’t hurt to contact your doctor to discuss your concerns. And if you develop an infection from chewing your nail, a dermatologist or other health care provider can help with treatment, the AADA says.
Here’s what happened when Emily Rekstis tried to break her nail biting habit. This is what she said:
Biting your nails is a terrible habit that I can’t seem to knock on. I turned to the internet and talked to experts to find the best hacks that will hopefully help me break my habit. This is how my little experiment went:
1. I dipped my nails in salt.