“World War Z” ($202 million), “What Lies Beneath” ($155 million) and “Gremlins” ($148 million) are the all-time, top-grossing nail-biters in North America, scaring tens of millions of moviegoers. But nail-biting isn’t always so entertaining. In fact, it’s an affliction that may indicate you have a condition associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder that’s called body-focused repetitive behavior or pathological grooming.
Experts say nail-biting is a clue that you’re not handling stressful, frustrating, dissatisfying or boring situations effectively, and that you’re inclined to create short-term, self-soothing habits instead of discovering positive ways to make yourself feel better in the long run. (Researchers have found that people do report that nail-biting immediately feels soothing.)
In addition, the American Academy of Dermatology warns that repeated nail-biting can harm the nail bed and lead to abnormal-looking nails. It also can pass bacteria and viruses from your mouth to your fingers, and back again from your nails to your face and mouth.
So how can you stop? Keep a journal that identifies triggers; you’ll begin to see when the urge strikes. Knowing that will help you resist. When you can’t beat the urge, substitute squeezing a stress ball for nibbling. Keep nails short, and consider using a bitter-tasting nail polish to make it unpleasant to put your fingernail in your mouth. Then think about adopting long-term stress-busters, like mindful meditation or yoga. And if you still can’t beat it, cognitive behavioral therapy or holistic psychotherapy may be smart steps.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.