Struggling with Nail Biting (Again)

My most popular post, by far, is about how I quit biting my nails after 27 years. I have people googling that on a daily basis and lots of complete strangers have commented on it. Apparently it’s a pretty common problem (or maybe lots of people have a fetish for really short nails because I’m getting lots of clicks on the pictures). For a while I’ve thought about doing a follow up post but I’ve resisted because it’s hard for me to talk about difficult things as they’re happening. 

I’ve decided to feel the fear and do it anyway. I’ve relapsed. 

March 2015

Now, you may say “Nora, that’s not so bad! They’re nowhere near as short as they used to be and other than the thumb they look pretty even!”  To that I’d reply I took that photo three months ago and this was the gateway to full on nail biting. Here’s how it started for me:

  1. Edges of the nails being too pointy: For some reason, I felt compelled to get rid of the sharpness by taking a quick nibble to get rid of the corners. 
  2. Nails sticking out too much: When my nails were longer I’d be aware of them anytime I tapped something. This annoyed me so I started picking at them with my other nails, which eventually led to ripping off parts of them to make them shorter. 
  3. Nails being uneven: Inevitably my random nibbles and ripping led to uneven nails and obviously I can’t have that, so I had to bite to even then out, all the while convincing myself it was simply for aesthetic reasons, not because I wanted to bite.

These things led to me having much shorter, but still longer than years ago, nails. 

February 2015

From here things progressed to my old habits; biting daily any time I saw I had enough nail to do so. I’d told Tracy I was doing this but hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else because I felt embarrassed and disappointed in myself–I’d gone over two years not biting! On Mother’s Day I told my mom and she asked me if I was going to try to quit again. I told her I wanted to but I didn’t think it was the right time. She said “not motivated right now?” I said that’s kind of the gist of it, but the real issue is I hadn’t figured out the root of the problem. Right now when Tracy sees me biting my nails and tells me to stop it’s only a temporary fix. Nail biting is a symptom of anxiety for me and I need to focus on addressing that anxiety before I’ll be able to stop myself from biting my nails.

As such, on Tuesday I decided to start a log of each time I’ve wanted to bite my nails. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

   
 

Right now the log is helping by being something else to do when I want to bite. That’s probably only temporary, so I want delve a little deeper into what is going on so I can come up with other coping mechanisms. I’m noticing some things these nail biting situations have in common:

  1. Boredom
  2. Frustration
  3. Uncertainty
  4. Feeling judged or evaluated

I don’t like these feelings, and I think that’s pretty universal for people who suffer from anxiety. 

So where do I go from here? I don’t really know, but here’s some things I’m going to try in order to break my nail biting habit (again):

  1. Talk about my anxiety: Not just to others, but to myself. Naming it gives it less power over me. Just saying to myself “wow, I feel really anxious right now” is helpful. I don’t have to feel like I’m shamefully hiding something. 
  2. Breathe through the anxious situations: Slow, deep breathing at a consistent pace is my go to when running and swimming and it has a very calming effect when not exercising, too. Focusing on steadying my breathing is a distraction at first but eventually makes my body more relaxed. 
  3. Pack heathful lunches: I need to eat every 1-2 hours, so I like to have lots of fruits and vegetables packed so they’re available instead of something less nutritious. I think keeping my blood sugar at an even level all day helps to keep my stress in check. 
  4. Be more mindful: The nail biting log will force me to examine why I am wanting to bite my nails rather than just shoving my hands into my mouth. Slowing down and thinking will help me take better care of myself. 

That said, some days I can try all these things and still struggle. I’d been hoping I’d permenantly turned off the nail biting switch but it seems to me this will always be a challenge. I feel like it’s an addiction for me–at times I don’t feel in control of my impulses, I just bite my nails. I’m initially comforted but then often have feelings of regret and shame. 

That’s not a great cycle to be in, so I’m going to try to change. Here’s where I am at now; day 4 of not biting.  

  I loved my nails when they were longer. I loved trimming them with nail clippers, loved painting them, and loved the way they made my hands look. I am hopeful I can get back to that point.

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4 responses to “Struggling with Nail Biting (Again)

  1. This is a great post–because of your honesty, and your willingness to get to the bottom of the anxiety and the addiction. It sounds a lot like a smoker trying to quit; I did that, several times, and it was hard. I like your log-keeping, good idea. Also, at the end you mentioned some things you loved about not biting. It would be good to keep a list like that somewhere you’ll see it, and maybe add to it. And congratulations on four days!

  2. p.s. I forgot to mention that when I work, I eat baby carrots pretty much nonstop!

  3. Your nails look fantastic bitten and short. You should not be self-conscious about it. If you enjoy biting your nails, then go for it! Whats the problem?

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