How I Stopped Biting My Nails
Ever since I was little, I've bitten my nails. Like, I don't remember a time that I didn’t bite my nails. It has been the most challenging habit I have ever tried to kick. It's a real habit and I’d even go as far as to say it's an addiction. One that has held me hostage for almost 37 years. But I have finally stopped! Here's what I learned in my journey.
- I’ve learned that it’s more a mental game than anything else and I had to acknowledge the fact that I have control over it. There have been times when I lived in foreign countries and I refused to put my hands in my mouth because I didn’t have reliable access to clean running water. When I lived in Africa and Ukraine, my nails grew pretty long, but the minute I came home, and could wash my hands regularly, I fell back into the habit. What those experiences taught me was that, with the right motivation, I really could stop biting my nails.
- I needed to take a closer look at when and why I would bite my nails. I noticed that I bit them when I was feeling anxious or when I was watching an intense movie or tv show. I’d also find myself mindlessly biting my nails when I was bored and my subconscious was seeking out something to do. As I’ve done more therapy this past year, I’ve learned more about myself and the things that make me anxious. Identifying those triggers, and learning healthy ways to self soothe and work through my anxious feelings, has really helped me to ditch my nervous biting.
- I've also learned that nail biting is a common symptom of ADHD, which I was recently diagnosed with. I now understand that the nail biting is a form of fidgeting. My brain is constantly seeking out stimulation, so when I’m feeling bored and restless, nail biting is a go-to way my brain has found something to do. As I’ve learned more about ADHD, and worked on my treatment plan, I’ve been able to find other ways to seek out stimulation that don’t involve the disappearance of my fingernails.
My main takeaway from this process was that nail biting wasn’t my real problem. It was just a symptom of deeper issues that I needed to uncover and work through. Feeling anxious, out of control, restless, bored, uncomfortable, or scared are all triggers. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to avoid these feelings. It’s part of the human experience. As a child I learned to ease my mind through nail biting, and I continued doing it into adulthood.
Now I practice recognizing that uneasy feeling inside of myself, pinpointing the need I need met, and dealing with that in the right way. Do I still put my fingers in my mouth when I'm watching a movie or when I’m feeling anxious? Totally! But I’m getting much better at catching it and checking in with myself when it happens. As I’ve worked on these skills, the urge to bite my nails has come up less and less. I just feel so grateful that I’ve been able to see the real problem and work on the deep rooted issues. I think all of us with unhealthy habits have way more deep-rooted issues that are driving the problem. Whether it’s overeating, under-eating, drug or alcohol abuse, or even just nail biting, there is always a baseline problem that needs to be dealt with first. It can be difficult to pinpoint. It may require therapy and being super honest with yourself, but that's where you actually start to heal.
As we enter a new year, there is so much pressure to break old habits and begin new ones. I hope that we can all be patient with ourselves at this time. Change takes time and work and is often much more complicated than the health and wellness industry leads us to believe. If you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by your goals, I encourage you to look deep within yourself and try to identify the things that may be holding you back. I promise that it’s not that you’re lazy or stupid or worthless. Those are never the reasons we don’t accomplish our goals, and if you believe those are the reasons, that’s a sign you have some inner work to do. You are amazing and smart, and capable, and I love you. You can do this!
Jess Liwanag —