Biting your nails is a habit that develops for many reasons. Boredom, anxiety, and impatience are three examples.

But once the action becomes a habit, it becomes normal behavior. Research from 2012 – re-published in 2021 – indicates that it takes ten weeks to break a habit.

In severe cases, it takes up to 36 weeks.

If you’re trying to break your nail-biting habit, the following are seven ways to stop the nervous pattern.

Take the Habit Seriously

An estimated 20 to 30% of the adult population – and 45% of children – have onychophagia. Onychophagia is the clinical name for nail-biting. So if you notice that you’re biting your nails a lot, it’s time to take the habit seriously.

Chewing your nails puts you at risk for infection around the nail and damaged skin. You may also hurt your teeth, and you’ll spread germs more easily too.

Those who attend anonymous meetings must acknowledge their addictions. That’s why the first step to overcoming an addiction is admitting that you have it.

To stop biting your nails, start by admitting that you’re doing it too often.

Manage the Underlying Cause

There are several causes of nail-biting, including experiencing tension, guilt, or shame. Others feel pleasure when they gnaw on their nails.

To quit the nail-biting habit, begin by understanding the underlying cause and managing it.

Did you develop the habit because you’re going through a stressful milestone in your life?

Did you develop the habit out of boredom?

Do you enjoy the way it feels to bite your nails?

Once you find your triggers, you can take steps to overcome them. At the least, minimize them.

For example, maybe you’re struggling with boredom, you have too much time on your hands. If you have a hobby, turn it into a full-time venture to keep yourself busy. Perhaps the anxiety from losing your job is causing you to bite your nails.

Exercise helps ease anxiety too. So consider taking up jogging, exercise classes, or yoga as a solution.

When the nail-biting habit is overwhelming, visit your doctor. They have the tools and strategies needed to evaluate the habit and the underlying cause.

Then, they’ll offer you some solutions.

Learn the Downsides

On the surface, nail-biting seems benign. But, if you dig into the consequences of the ritual, maybe you’ll scare yourself out of it.

Once you bite down beneath your fingernail’s cuticles, it’s tough to hide the aftermath. People are careful about judging others in 2021, but they’re still going to notice the state of your nails. If they realize that you’re a nail-biter, you may seem easily triggered, not very confident, and unable to practice self-control.

So, one of the downsides of biting your nails is revealing that you’re not in a good place in your life.

If you bite down too far, you’ll cause the area to bleed. It also puts you at risk for infections, and you’re more likely to get sick.

A serious con is that biting your nails is a symptom of something more unhealthy. When the condition stems from a psychological issue, you could be heading toward pulling your hair and picking at your skin.

Learning the downsides is a positive step toward figuring out what’s going on and stopping it before it escalates toward something else.

Wear Mittens Often

Individuals determined to stop the nail-biting habit can start wearing mittens. Of course, it’s not going to be fun if it’s the middle of summer, but you’re on the path to making your nails beautiful again.

Plus, you’re starting the clock on breaking the pattern.

If it’s too hot to wear mittens, there are other options, such as nail-biting gloves and finger protectors.

The point is to find something that prevents you from continuing the ritual. For example, nail polish on the fingernails works for some individuals. Placing bitter solutions on the nails works for others.

Keep Your Nails Short

Keeping your nails short is another way to stop the nervous habit of biting them. If you continue to chew anyway, you’ll strike blood.

At this point, you’ll know that the pattern is severe.

For others with less severe onychophagia, short nails work. However, when you attempt to chew on them, there isn’t much there to enjoy. The goal is to move you away from your habit to protect the nail and surrounding skin.

Other individuals manicure their nails professionally. If you see them in a pretty state, you might be less likely to mess it up by chewing them. Plus, word around town is that nail polish doesn’t taste very good.

Avoid Keeping Your Fingers Idle

They say that idle hands get people into trouble. Idle fingers get some into trouble too. If you’re chewing your nails because you’re bored, it’s time to find something else to do.

There’s an endless supply of books, for example. Dive into a fictional adventure or an autobiography of your favorite icon.

Consider carrying around a stress ball, fidget widget, or putty with you. Each of these objects keeps your fingers busy. Find one that distracts you and satisfies the urge that overcomes you.

See a Therapist

Visiting your doctor is a solid first step for those whose nail-biting habit leans toward severe. If your doctor believes that your condition doesn’t fall into the primary care sphere, you may receive a recommendation to see a therapist.

The solution to your habit might be engaging in behavioral therapy. During these sessions, you’ll walk down a path of discovery.

You might know why you’re biting your nails, but it has a greater effect if you say it out loud to someone else.

A therapist helps raise your awareness.

The professional might recommend hypnotherapy or habit reversal training. You might discover that the habit started in your childhood after a traumatic experience. Instead of dealing with the trauma, you managed to tuck it away.

Now, it’s trying to resurface.

The therapist can also make recommendations based on their evaluation of your case.


It takes at least ten weeks to break a habit.

But, if you’ve noticed that nail-biting has become a pattern, there are ways to overcome it. You may be experiencing co-occurring conditions where the most visible symptom is biting your nails. Admitting that an issue is happening is the first step toward ending the pattern.
About the author

Adam Marshall is a freelance writer who specializes in all things apartment organization, real estate, and college advice. He currently works with Grove at Flagstaff to help them with their online marketing.