It is difficult to do a mental review of our close acquaintances and not find someone who bites their nails. Between 20 and 30% of the population suffers from this pathology called onychophagia, although its possible the members of this percentage do not consider it more than a bad habit (even if they hurt themselves or feel shame about the appearance of their hands).
One of the facts mentioned in many of the articles that have been written on the subject is that, in 2012, the American Psychological Association included onychophagy in the same category as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It gives an idea of the seriousness that may have an issue and an explanation why criticizing someone who is going to put his hand to his mouth is useless.
The habit of biting your nails is related to high levels of anxiety that are currently managed automatically. This behavior helps the person to calm down although, in reality it does not remove the situation that is causing the nervousness. The trigger for this state may be related to work, to one’s level of self-demand, to feeling evaluated or having to do something that is not wanted, among others.
And whats better than a global pandemic to raise levels of anxiety and nerves. The fear of contagion, the uncertainty of what and how it will happen, the rigidity of the protocols and the prohibitions; affect our current mental health and it remains to be seen how it will do it in the long term.
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Sara, a 28-year-old health professional, no longer remembers when her nails started to break down, but she comments that with the pandemic they are fatal; :much worse than before, my hands are shattered”.
However, the situation has also caused reverse cases. An example is that of Sonia, a 37-year-old food store worker, who has stopped biting them since the pandemic began. “I stopped because not putting your hand to your mouth is one of the main safety measures. And before, I was all the time with the nail in my mouth, but the other day I even had to cut them because they bothered me to work”.
The psychological explanation for this kind of miraculous change in behavior may be that during confinement the person, in addition to not having been able to do many things that he wanted, has also stopped doing many others that he did not want. Thus, not being subjected to the pressure of everyday life has been able to positively influence reducing their levels of anxiety and tension.
This also comes out (with a little help)
As with other pathologies or harmful addictions such as smoking, there are support measures to try to quit. Whether they work or not is another matter, but there they are. And, of course, the most reasonable, especially if the level is serious; is to put yourself in the hands of a professional.
The key is to help the person manage the nervousness produced by situation ‘X’ differently and consciously. For example, helping the person to reduce their levels of self-demand, to face the job differently or even to change jobs. Encourage that person to do what he wants to do in his day to day.
There is also the alternative to try following the instructions in a book. If millions of people managed to get rid of tobacco by reading it is easy to quit smoking if you know how about Allen Carr (who died of lung cancer, macabre ironies of life) How can there not be a manual to abandon onychophagy?
It is the best-known title of those who deal with the subject and in addition to analyzing what leads to nail biting, it gives tips to curb the temptation, such as putting a rubber band on the wrist and pulling it. So far, it has worked best for some people, although the distress that has begun to develop onychophagy may have caused to be the definitive treatment.
There are other titles although they have been published in English: Truth About Nail-Biting by Audrey Ciccarelli, Nail Biting How To Stop ?: An Addiction Recovery Psychological Self Help Guide by Asanka S. Jayarathne or the children’s The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit by Stan Berenstain.
There are also applications. The best known product that is applied to the nails (its applicator is shaped like an underline) to help stop biting them. A similar method to Mordex, which is applied as a nail polish and has a very bitter taste.
The app (available on the Apple Store and Google Play) provides practical advice, reminds the user when the product has to be applied and allows you to track the evolution of the nails, since you can upload photos to compare the before and after. The brand says that using the application and the product at the same time, the person will be able to end the habit in 18 days.
Stop Nail Biting Hypnosis App (for Apple and Google) promises to end the user’s onychophagy through hypnotherapy recordings. According to information from its creators, “it will help reprogram your mind unconsciously and deal with your stress and anxiety in a different way to break your unwanted, unhygienic and unpleasant habit of nail biting.
Keep in mind that onychophagia can have negative effects on teeth, cause infections in the affected area or cause social problems due to the unpleasant appearance of the hands. And, precisely, aesthetics can be another way to the solution.
Some salon experts say people come to their salon who bite their nails and what we do is invite them to get a good manicure first, so that they can see the manicured nail and then polish it. In this way, when you see your painted nails, it makes you more hesitant to put them in your mouth.
We do not put gel or porcelain because a bitten nail is already very weak and if you put something on it, it is worse. Although understandable that there are people who end up doing it if their hands are already very unsightly.
The most common reason why their clients return to the pathways of onychophagy is work. When they start with meetings or have a lot of moments of stress, they relapse after having been the same for two months without modifying them. Yes, there is indeed much more concern about ending the problem than years ago.
It is possible that to all this range of possibilities we must add the accessories that the ‘new normality’ has brought: with gloves and a mask, putting your nails in your mouth is, without a doubt, more difficult.