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Nail Biting: Sign of anxiety or just a bad habit?

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Are you one those people who bites their nails uncontrollably? Studies show that 60% of children and 45 percent of teens, bite their nails. After age 18 the percentages of people who bite their nails dwindle. However, there are some cases of this continuing during adulthood.

They say it’s our parents fault for not stopping us bite our nails. Scientist Scientists aren’t sure if nail biting is genetic, but kids whose parents bite their nails are more likely to bite their nails, too. Studies show this happens even if the parents stop doing it before their child is born.

Sometimes, nail biting can be a sign of emotional or mental stress. It tends to show up in people who are nervous, anxious or feeling down. It’s a way to cope with these feelings.

You may also find yourself doing it when you’re bored, hungry or feeling insecure. Most nail biting is automatic — you do it without thinking.

Nail biting is part of what is referred to as pathological grooming. This is a group of behaviors that include hair pulling, known as trichotillomania, and skin picking, known as dermatillomania. To begin with, these behaviors may be triggered by situations that provoke lots of stress and anxiety.

Nail biting becomes a way to relieve stress. Soon, it turns into a habit. Contrary to what some may believe, it is not a habit that disturbs the nail biter. Quite to the contrary, it feels good, which is part of the reason why it’s hard to stop.

Some mental health professionals have suggested that nail biting may be a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because the individual is aware of what they are doing but cannot stop. However, thought aware of the problem, many nail biters have no wish to stop.

Another name for nail biting is chronic onychophagia. It is considered the most common stress-relieving habit. Other habits related to this condition include:

  • thumb-sucking
  • nose-picking
  • hair twisting
  • tooth grinding
  • skin picking

While stress may be one reason why people bite, there is no solid research into this behavior and therefore, no identified reasons why it happens. There is no clear evidence that nail biting is harmful either mentally or physically.

Nevertheless, there are good reasons to stop. For example, fingers and hands can look unattractive as a result of damage finger nails that look shredded and torn. Also, putting hands to the mouth is unsanitary and increases the risk of introducing viruses into the system. That is one way germs, such as the flu, are spread from one person to the next.

However,if this becomes a problem that somehow interferes with social and work functioning it could be a symptom of a deeper problem that calls for psychotherapy. While nail biting is considered harmless for most people there are cases where this is not true. If you are uncertain about your nail biting behavior, a consultation with mental health practitioner is a good idea.

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