I wanted to talk today about a habit that I have spent my entire life battling. Nail biting - or picking, or whatever you want to call it - has been a vice of mine since as long as I can remember, and it has hindered my self-confidence and exemplified my anxiety all my life.
Growing up, I never had long nails, I had little nubs for fingers and I would look down on them and be ashamed, i'd always wish I could stop, but I was never able to. Yes, I quit a few times and got a glimpse of what it's like to have beautiful full nails but I always relapsed; whether it be because of school stress, work anxiety, or all out boredom, eventually my nails would go back to their usual torn up nasty selves.
I tried EVERYTHING, the gross nail polish you put on that tastes awful (doesn't work), rewards for quitting biting, bets, gel nails (DON'T DO IT), fake nails from Walmart - some of which worked, for a month or two, but never really lasted.
A lot of people suffer from this, I have met many nail biters, some not so bad others almost as bad as myself, and it seems the main ingredient is anxiety. The tough thing though, is figuring out what triggers that anxiety. Recently I asked my boyfriend to ask me every time I was fiddling with my nails what was bugging me, so I could figure out what was triggering the picking and the biting. Sometimes it was obvious - I was in an uncomfortable situation, I felt stress at work; other times, it was nothing at all - I was bored, I didn't know what else to do with my hands, there was a stupid uneven nail that I HAD to fix.
So, as simple as it sounds, figuring out what causes my anxiety and eliminating it, didn't really work. Sure it helped, and it taught me to deal with my stress a little better, but my nails still did not grow.
But, last month I tried something else, behavioral conditioning. An idea that stemmed from a blog I read awhile back, that really resonated with me as a nail biter and may help some of you out there struggling.
This blog helped me realize that my biggest problem was mindfulness, or lack there of. I would pick and bite my nails and I wouldn't even realize I was doing it. Someone would remind me to stop and 2 minutes later my hands were together again. Out of EVERY remedy I have tried for nail biting, this has actually worked for the past 42 days. I am not saying I am cured, but I have longer nails and I am always aware of when I am picking which reminds me to de-stress and manicure so that I can avoid picking more.
Here's what I did:
- Step 1:
I found elastic bands, the kind that hurt when you snap them, and wrapped one around each wrist. Not too tight so you cut off your circulation, but enough that if you snap it, it will sting. Note, this isn't self-harm in any way, I wasn't snapping it until my wrists bled, only enough that it would create a negative reinforcement whenever my fingers went near my mouth or my hands went together.
- Step 2:
Tell everyone. My friends, my family members, my work colleagues, to snap the elastic band every time they saw me picking or biting or even fiddling with my nails. The people who care about you will snap the hell out of that elastic band, even my mom happily gave me 2 seconds of pain to help me kick this thing.
- Step 3:
Be consistent. Which I was and still am. I wear an elastic band every day, and I will still snap myself from time to time when I go to pick. But guess what, I rarely have to! It is actually working! It's just like training your dog, you spray water in his face every time he barks and what happens, he stops barking. I don't know why I never thought of this before, I took psych in university and the answer was right there. They say it takes 30 days to break a habit, I am not sure how true this is but i've been doing it for over a month and truly feel a difference.
Regardless of how long it took me to figure it out, I am now 23 and I can confidently say that I think I am on the mend. I am not going to go so far as saying i'm cured for good and that i'll never do it again, but I think I have found something that works for me, and I finally don't feel ashamed about my nails or myself. My fingers don't hurt any more when I peel oranges, I can actually pick up change when it falls on the floor, and hey! come summer, I will be able to scratch my mosquito bites! Win!
I am not saying this trick will work for everyone, but I just wanted to share my experience, and let others out there know that it's possible even if it feels so incredibly impossible. Find what works for you and be consistent and maybe you might surprise yourself.
Above all, accept yourself even for your habits, they do not define you.