You may have never heard of onychophagia but a simple show of hands may reveal you have this challenge. For onychophagia is the term for chronic nail biting..This behavior occurs in different cultures and on different continents. Nail biting occurs slightly more in males than females. It is also very common at all ages. Studies have shown that nail biting occurs between 28 and 33 percent of the time in children between seven and ten. Nail biting peaks in adolescents with 19 to 29 percent of teenagers. As young adults mature, the incidence of nail biting drops but 10 to 20 percent continue to chew their nails.
So why do people bite and pick their nails? There are a lot of different opinions. Although the old Freudian view of oral fixation is no longer popular, some older studies still lean to psychological reasons. Newer studies often identify nail biting as a relative of obsessive-compulsive disorder. While some experts describe this as an exaggerated grooming behavior similar to monkeys and apes, others believe there is a genetic link since the behavior is often seen in families, Stress relief may be important to some nail biters while for others it may simply be a matter of habit.
In any case, though it can seem like a fairly unimportant habit, I often see clients who complain about it affecting their lives. Some complain about the embarassment of a behavior that seems childlike or unprofessional while others talk about the discomfort of sore, raw or even bleeding fingers which makes their hands unattractive. And others are very concerned about nail biting being unsanitary.
Among techniques people have used to overcome onychophaiga are: keeping a journal about the behavior to help identify triggers to nail biting, using a relaxation technique like meditation, keeping hands busy with an activity like playing with a stress ball or even the old Internet favorite of painting the nails with a bitter or hot liquid such as something flavored with peppery flavors like Tabasco sauce. Be aware that some people actually start to like the hot flavors. Some medical doctors will prescribe medications such as Prozac when the nail biting is severe. Hypnotherapy can be a valuable tool to help you overcome this habit. Stop nail biting, feel good and BE WELL.