Nail biting can happen almost to anyone and for any reason, but it usually is prevalent during an anxious episode. Whether you’re gearing up for a big test or waiting on news from a doctor, you may find your nails coming up to your mouth to be gnawed on. And you won’t even realize it!
20 to 30% of people admit to biting their nails on a daily basis. Research shows that most people bite their nails because they’re in need of a psychological crutch, although reasons for the behavior do vary.
Kieron O’Connor, a researcher at the University Institute of Mental Health at Montreal, says that it doesn’t just have to be anxiety that causes nail biting. “People think you only bite when you’re stressed, but it’s not so simple,” he says, “People will also bite when they’re bored and alone.”
O’Connor stresses nail biting as a “mood regulator” of sorts since no matter what the individual may be feeling, nail biting provides temporary relief from whatever they’re doing.
However, a study that was co-authored by O’Connor says that nail biting is more common in people who are perfectionists. That means that if these “perfectionists” don’t do something that’s to their level of expectation, it can cause an anxious episode, leading to nail-biting. The research showed that after speaking with 48 subjects, half who bite nails and half who don’t, they discovered that those who bite their nails are organized perfectionists, people who overwork, plan too much, and think too much.
“When people are perfectionists, they get bored and frustrated very easily and hold themselves to higher standards. They plan too much, and when they can’t do all of it they have a sense of failure,” O’Connor says.
Nail biting will manifest at different levels of intensity. There’s an extreme measure called onychophagia, where compulsive nail biting will become so severe it requires medical attention. This problem may delve even deeper into mental issues, in which case a mental professional will intervene to determine the cause of the compulsive nail biting.
For the most part, though, it’s just a nasty little habit that a lot of people have trouble breaking.
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