A Nail Biting Story; Breaking Habits

Eric Lim/New University

By Sara Naor

I can still remember the taste of the Thum nail-biting solution my mother used to put on my nails as a child. It was clear nail polish with a spicy, peppery taste that stung any open wound in my mouth and made me jerk my hand away in disgust.

Eventually I grew accustomed to the taste of Thum and even figured out that if I just gritted through and bit off the solution that I would be able to bite my nails again in peace.

As a child I had no idea why I bit my nails, it was just something I always did. Looking back I know that it was simply a nervous habit that would occur at random moments throughout the day. I had no physical control over it nor did I try to exert any until three years ago when my mother decided to once and for all (after 30 years) to quit smoking.

Quitting smoking, as anyone who has been addicted to nicotine or had a friend or family addicted, is one of the hardest addictions to break. In fact it is put right up there with heroin and cocaine. My mother had stopped smoking for both the birth of my sister and me but started up again afterwards.

For years we had tried to convince her to stop smoking to no avail. It was one of those situations where the decision to quit had to come from within.

When my mom quit smoking she challenged my sister and I to put a stop to our disgusting habit as a show of support.

It shames me to admit that I did not take this challenge as seriously as I should have. If I had realized earlier that there was a link between how my mother eventually overcame smoking and how I could overcome my habit of biting my nails, it may have been easier.

For me biting my nails was just always something I had done. I had gone for some periods of time where I actively tried to stop myself but I always ended up relapsing in the end.

In my mind I rationalized that my habit was not nearly as disgusting as some of my friends who bit their nails practically down to nubs in their fingers, therefore my habit was under control.

Nail biting or onychophagia, is referred to as a stress-relieving habit. Going through school I definitely used it as a means to an end. Just like people who smoked when they were feeling anxious or stressed, I could always find my hands within easy reach and relieve stress my way.

According to WebMD about 50 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 18 bite their nails with some continuing the habit into their 20s. The majority of people, however, stop on their own by 30.

The solutions to nail biting are many and varied. Thum or any other kind of bitter-tasting nail polish can be used as an aversion therapy to stop nail biting (that failed on me). Because nail biting is linked to stress relief another way to combat it is to try and control the way you react to stress in your life, something most teenagers should try to do anyway.

The way that I eventually got over my nail biting was similar to how my mom got over her smoking addiction: replacing it with something else.

Instead of smoking now, my mother pops mints and chews gum like there is no tomorrow. I find it ironic that she replaced an addiction that gave her terrible breath with a habit that freshened it instead.

Likewise, I replaced my habit with painting my nails. It mirrors the irony of my mother’s replacement. When I bit my nails I hated having them polished because the colors would draw attention to just how disgusting they looked. With my nails polished it took me more time to get to the nails beneath the polish so, when I found myself eating away at the polish, I could actively stop, take off the polish and repaint my nails.

This new habit helped me break my nail-biting habit and allowed me to show off my accomplishments. Now when I look at my nails it is a constant reminder of overcoming my disgusting habit and replacing it with one that lets me show off a part of me through different colors.

I am thankful to my mother, who after years of trying to get me to stop my disgusting habit, was finally able to show me just how strong a person can be when overcoming addiction. If she could give up smoking, there was no reason for me not to stop biting my nails.

I do relapse sometimes though. I find often in movie theaters I tend to bite my nails more subconsciously or when my stress levels are high (aka finals week) I am more prone to biting. If I do bite my nails I have to start over, repaint and keep going forward hoping that one day my habit will be gone for good.