The problem of nail biting or onychophagia, can range from a mild, occasional habit to an ongoing and even dangerous problem.

Often nail biting starts in childhood. Studies have shown 30% of children and 45% of teenagers bite their nails and 25% of adults bite their finger nails. Nail biting becomes less common after the age of 18, although it can continue into adulthood in some cases. Many adults and children unconsciously bite their nails because it has become a habit.

What causes nail biting?
  1. Stress  – the most common cause of nail biting is often a way of easing anxiety in a stressful               situation;
  2. Boredom – nail biting can keep one part of the body occupied while the mind lacks interest;
  3. Frustration and Loneliness – emotional triggers can lead to nail biting;
  4. Genetics – there is some evidence that it is genetic;
  5. Psychological problems – conditions such as OCD, ADHD, ODD, separation anxiety and bed-           wetting can be accompanied by nail biting;
  6. Mineral deficiencies – research suggests that the alkali metals (calcium, potassium, sodium) in nails help remove excess acids produced by your body at times of stress, hence nail biting is often     associated with stressful situations.
Risks of Nail Biting

Regular nail biting can damage the cuticle and leave the area around the nail red and lead to an infection called paronychia.  Warts on the fingers can also spread to the mouth and lips of regular nail biters. Constantly putting your fingers in your mouth can also transfer bacterial or fungal infections into the system which may lead to illness as well.  Nail biting can slowly affect your teeth, changing the position of your bite and eventually wearing down your teeth.

Psychologically, nail biting can be a cause of embarrassment and isolation making one less likely to want to mix in certain social situations.  This may lead to loneliness, stress, a poor quality of life and more nail biting.

Nail Biting Treatments

Many children grow out of this habit, but if it persists into teens and adulthood, here are some things that can help:

  1. Keep a journal to identify your nail-biting triggers, such as boredom or watching TV, then avoiding the triggers as much as possible;
  2. Paint your fingers with a bitter tasting nail biting polish or a hot substance like chilli;
  3. Keep nails trimmed short or have regular manicures;
  4. Wrap your fingers in adhesive or electrical tape to avoid biting;
  5. Manage your stress with meditation, yoga, massage or Bowen Therapy;
  6. Consider behavioural therapy – EFT (emotional freedom technique), kinesiology or counselling;
  7. Taking a mineral supplement may be of assistance – see your health care professional for advice.

Recently, a woman aged in her 60’s came to visit my clinic who was experiencing a lot of stress in her life.  She had been through menopause, but was still having several hot flushes per day, but her main concern was that she was a nail biter!

Having experienced a traumatic childhood, my client started nail biting from an early age and had continued to do so ever since.  The nail biting became more frequent during times of extreme stress.

We agreed to have several Bowen Therapy sessions to help reduce the stress hormones in her body and wait to see if her symptoms eased.  On the first visit I performed the basic nervous system balance with the Bowen Technique and she felt very relaxed following this treatment.

Normally, I would have a follow-up in one week, but my client was unable to return for another three weeks due to family commitments. Upon her return she was delighted to tell me that she had not bitten her nails at all since her one Bowen Therapy treatment.

We continued to work on her menopausal symptoms and she agreed to three more session which helped reduce her hot flushes considerably.

Four months later my client returned for a ‘tune-up’ and reported that she had still not bitten her nails and they were looking beautiful.  Now she could treat herself to regular manicures without embarrassment.

If you suffer from nail biting or any other stress related condition, why not give Maree Kendall a call for a free chat:

P:  02 96268705
M: 0412080051


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