Nov. 1, 2012 at 8:44 AM ET
Maybe you've been a nail biter for years. Or you have a friend or relative who tends to snack on their digits. Sure, it's not something you (or they) are proud of, but you've probably never viewed it as a full-fledged disorder. The American Psychiatric Association--which publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)--is about to change your nail-biting outlook.
The DSM will soon label nail biting--currently listed as "not otherwise classified," a.k.a. not a big deal--as an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
OCD is most-commonly characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). It's important to note that only certain types of nail biters--the extreme cases--fit into this category. "As with hair pulling and skin picking, nail biting isn't a disorder unless it is impairing, distressing, and meets a certain clinical level of severity," says Carol Mathews, M.D., a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco. "That is not the vast majority of nail bitters," she says. "It is a very small minority of people."
What counts as clinical severity? "They have bitten so much that they are getting infections," Mathews says. "There is physical damage that is impairing their ability to use their hands."
Okay, let's say your case doesn't quite warrant an OCD label: That doesn't mean you get a free, all-you-can-bite pass. It's still gross. Plus, it's unhealthy.
Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D., a dermatologist with the Mayo Clinic, says nail biting doesn't come without risk. It can, "contribute to skin infection, aggravate existing conditions of the nail bed, and increase the risk of colds and other infections by encouraging the spread of germs from the nails and fingers to the lips and mouth."
Four simple ways to ditch the disorder for good:
1. Become aware of mindless munching
You know how sometimes the entire bag of Cheetos® "disappears" while you're watching TV? The same thing happens when you chew your nails. The key to conquering the brainless bite: You need to track the situation. Ask your friends and family to stand watch, and take note of every time you wind up with your fingers in your mouth. If you're biting out of boredom, give yourself a task: Do your laundry (you have to do it anyway, right?), squeeze a stress ball, braid your hair, etc. For even more tips on how to banish bad habits like nail-biting, click here.
2. Keep your nails neatly trimmed or manicured
When your nails are beautifully painted or already trimmed, you're less likely to feel the urge to bite. "For the occasional nail biter, a mild imperfection in the nail may be the culprit," Mathews says. This is a great excuse to spring for a mani! Don't have the cash? Check out these seven tips for a gorgeous DIY manicure.
3. Make your digits taste disgusting
Bring out some extra reinforcement with a product like Sally Supernail Professional's Bite No More™, which is formulated to prevent casual biting of the nails by producing a mild, unpleasant taste to remind you not to bite.
4. Find healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety
Paying the bills, meeting work deadlines, keeping a stable relationship--your life is most likely packed with stress, and, since you've outgrown your childhood pacifier, you may tend to rip away your cuticles as a way to cope. Need new ways to relax? Here, we share 31 ways to de-stress your life.
This content originally appeared as "Stop Biting Your Nails (For Real This Time)"
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