We are living in an *extremely* anxiety-inducing time. And in periods of crazy stress, our bad habits only get worse. For me (along with 20 to 30 percent of the world’s population), it's all about biting my nails. Not because I love messing up a good manicure, or because I enjoy making my fingers look like little stubs, but because I...have to? I know it's pretty gross and veryyyyy unhygienic, but it's an impulse that feels nearly impossible to stop.
But the thing is, it's not impossible. With a bit of focus and dedicated effort, we can both totally break this habit. I'm certainly gonna try and I hope you will, too. Because, yes, while I am feeling more nervous about the state of the world than ever before, I also have a ton of free time on my hands (heh), so I might as well give this whole self-improvement thing a shot. You with me?
Use a deterrent
According to Dr. Kathleen Rivera, a child/adolescent and adult/forensic psychiatrist for Nuvance Health, nail-biting is simply a way to soothe yourself. "The act of bringing your nails to your mouth and biting them provides a sense of relief," Dr. Rivera explains. "It’s as if we stretched a rubber band as far as it could go and then released it. When you bite your nails, you release neurotransmitters in your brain that make you feel good."
This is why a pretty popular trick for breaking the habit is by changing up the experience so that it makes you feel bad. "Use a bitter-tasting nail polish; some people even make their own by mixing hot sauce or garlic essence in their nail polish," says Dr. Rivera. This way, whenever you bite your mani, you'll be met with a yucky taste.Continue reading below ↓Recommended Videos
Carry nail tools with you
Whenever you get the urge to nibble, start filing your nails instead. If you carry a nail file or nail clipper in your bag or place one near you at all times, you’re more likely to do a little healthy trimming rather than gnawing. Store a few of your favorite tools in your desk at work, too, so you never find yourself in that tricky situation where you have a hangnail and you can't do anything *other* than think about said hangnail. (Hey, we've all been there.)
Start keeping track of how often you bite
Sounds daunting, but hear me out. Spend just one day writing a nail-biting diary: Take note of exactly when you're doing it, the situation you're in, and the emotions you're feeling the second the urge to chew strikes. This will help you pinpoint some of the psychological aspects behind your habit (for me, I always pick at my nails in meetings when I'm nervous my boss will call on me to speak). Identifying these triggers is the first step to beating the impulse ~mentally~.
Keep those nails manicured
Apparently, if our nails are neatly manicured, we could be discouraged from biting them as "there's an awareness that we have either spent money, time, or effort, and ruining the manicure can deter the behavior," says Dr. Rivera. Protect your investment!
Replace the behavior
If you're the kind of fidgety biter who does it merely to give your hands or mouth something to do, "try using gum or hard candy to substitute the behavior," recommends Dr. Rivera.
Work with an expert
"If deterrents and substitutes aren't successful in the long-term, consider working with a therapist who specializes in behavioral modifications," suggests Dr. Rivera. A professional will be able to help you drill down on what's causing your urge to bite, and work with you to develop a personalized solution to break the habit.
Visualize your dream nails
Think of it as a vision board but instead of plastering it with pics of your perfect home, fill it up shots of what you want your nails to look like. You can totally do this the old-school way (scissors, your favorite mag, a collage) or the digital version (make a saved folder on your IG or a Pinterest board). The visual cue will help you remember why you're working so hard to overcome your nail-biting habit.
If all else fails, get a pair of cute gloves to cover your nails so you won't be tempted. Hey, everyone and their mother is sporting gloves RN so you won’t even look out of place when you're wearing mittens in hot weather.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.