How To Stop Your Nail Biting Habit (And Other Nervous Habits)

People have tried all sorts of tricks to try to stop biting their nails:

But these methods are often ineffective, unsustainable, or even backfire – creating more stress and more stress relief-seeking through their bad habit.

Habit Reversal Training has shown to be significantly more effective for correcting nervous habits such as nail-biting, thumb-sucking, eyelash-plucking, head shaking, and shoulder jerking.

Motivation Training

You won’t change if you don’t want to change. 

Maybe you think that nail-biting is harmless. It’s not. Nail-biting complications include:

  • damage, soreness, or infection to your nails and surrounding skin
  • damage to your teeth
  • risk of illness from dirty fingers in your mouth

Also, consider the positives: healthier and more attractive nails and teeth, reduced risk of infection, and increased self-confidence.

You also won’t change if you don’t think it’s possible.

By learning specific methods for behavioral transformation, you can feel confident in your ability to change successfully.

Awareness Training

You won’t change if you’re not aware of the problem. Self-awareness around your nervous habit can be developed through 3 simple procedures.

Response Detection

Many people don’t catch themselves until after they’ve been biting their nails for a few minutes – if they realize it at all.

Recall recent situations in which you have bitten your nails.

Practice noticing it while it’s happening instead of afterward.

Response Description

Describe the chain of events to a friend, a counselor, or in a notebook.

What exactly are your hands doing? 

Why do you do it? Boredom, frustration, and anxiety are common nail-biting triggers. 

What are the consequences?

What self-talk do you use around the habit? How do you feel about it? How much awareness do you have of your nail-biting?

Early Warning Detection

Search for early indicators of nail-biting – moods and situations that tend to trigger it, actions that occur before the nail-biting, such as bringing your hand up to your mouth or tapping your nails on your teeth.

To build a healthier course of action, you’ll want to attach Competing Responses to these early signs.

Competing Response Training

Awareness is not enough. Nothing changes if nothing changes.

It would help if you had a healthier behavior that would be more enjoyable and satisfying.

Try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Before you bite your nails, clench your fist for a few seconds, then release and relax. Flex your whole arm, and relax. Spend a few minutes going from your head to your toes, relaxing your body entirely.

Some people try to fidget with objects, but this is only a temporary distraction. PMR can teach you how to safely relieve stress and build awareness and strength for other muscle actions.

Contingency Training

Look ahead to future scenarios when nail-biting might occur. Plan what you can do to prevent it or how you’ll respond when you notice you’re doing it. Practice progressive muscle relaxation and other healthful coping mechanisms.

Nail-biting often comes attached to other psychiatric disorders such as ADHD, separation anxiety, and depression. A therapist or psychiatrist can help you diagnose and treat any underlying issues that may be contributing to your nail-biting habit.