Do you ever catch yourself biting your nails when you feel anxious?


Do you feel a strong need to pick your skin, pull your hair or bite your nails? Nervous habits such as these can also be called Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours or BFRBs for short and can individually or collectively be detrimental to our body, daily life and self-esteem.

In other words BFRBs is an umbrella term for recurrent, problematic and destructive behaviours that we direct towards our own body.

Some of these BFRBs habits may simply be just a habit or they could have more serious underlying issues. Generally research has found that we tend to display these habits when we are anxious, stressed, depressed or have other mental health issues.

Here are some useful facts about skin picking, hair pulling and nail biting, as well as some helpful tips on how you can stop these nervous habits.  

Skin Picking (also known as Dermatillomania or Excoriation Disorder)

Is a condition where you feel compelled to pick at your skin to the point where it causes visible wounds to your skin and is an impulsive disorder where you are unable to stop yourself from picking at your skin. Many people who have dermatillomania excessively pick, scratch or gouge at their healthy skin either on their face, lips, arms, scalp, hand and nail bed, which can often result in bleeding, bruising, infections and scars.

Skin picking is closely associated with our feelings as it becomes an intense emotion and compulsion that just increases in intensity until we have picked at our skin but once we have for filled the compulsion to pick at a certain area of skin, we then feel a sense of relief. Although this is generally for a short period because the negative feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment kick in that we have picked an area so much that now it’s bleeding.

This disorder is a type of addiction, which is been strongly linked to people who have low self-esteem, high levels of stress and anxiety, as well as having physchological and mental health disorders.

Tips for stopping or reducing the amount of times you pick at your skin

  • When tempted to pick at your skin, apply and rub in moisturiser to distract the temptation.
  • Occupy your hands with something else until the urge to pick has passed, this could be applying nail varnish or playing with a stress ball.
  • Try to hold off the urge as long as possible through mindful breathing or counting. The longer you can resist between urges will increase over time to the point where you can resist all together.

Also seek medical advice from your doctor as they can refer you to a psychologist for talk therapy, where you will learn how to become more consciously aware of situations and events that may trigger your skin picking. Also you doctor may refer you to a dermatologist (skin specialist) if your skin has become badly damaged or infected.

Hair pulling (also known as Trichotillomania)

A condition where you feel compelled to pull your out, this may not be just chunks of hair from your head but your eyebrows and eyelashes too. Very much the same as skin picking , people who pull their hair out are unable to stop themselves with the intense urge increasing until they have pulled a patch of hair out and often leaving large bold patches once they feel a sense of relief and calmness again.

As with skin pulling; hair pulling is a type of addiction, which has been strongly linked to people who have low self-esteem, high levels of stress and anxiety, as well as having physchological and mental health disorders. Hair pulling is also more common among teenagers and young adults, and tends to effect girls more than boys.

Hair pulling or Trichotillomania can have a significant impact on the persons quality of life and can cause some medical issues such as Alopecia and Trichobezoars (hair balls that form in the stomach or bowel from eating hair that has been pulled out). As well as feels of guilt, shame, isolation, embarrassment and in some cases their social and work life can be severally affected.

Unfortunately there is very little research into the treatment for hair pulling but the research that has been carried out found psychotherapy (type of talk therapy) and cognitive behavioural therapy where very effective as they  not only looks at the emotional issues behind the urge to pull your hair out but also the triggers that are involved.

If you are suffering from Hair pulling or Trichotillomania, I recommend you go and see your doctor, where they can not only examine any bold patches you may have for skin infection and they will refer you to receive either psychotherapy or cognitive behavioural therapy.

Nail biting (also known as Onychophagy or Onychophagia)

Nail biting is one of the most well known of the BFRBs and is not always a pathological condition as it is usually only a temporary habit. However the statistics show nail biting occurs in 33% of children aged 7-10 years, 45% of adolescents and 21.5% of male adults.

For some people, the social stigma and embarrassment over the look of their nails causes them to become depressed, isolated, or avoid activities they would otherwise enjoy. Beyond this, however, is there reason to worry if you regularly bite your nails?

  • Disease-Causing Bacteria – As you bite your nails, bacteria is easily transferred into your mouth and the rest of your body, where it may lead to infections. Your fingernails may actually be twice as dirty as your fingers as they’re difficult to keep clean, making this a prime point of transfer for infectious organisms.
  • Nail InfectionsNail biters are susceptible to paronychia, a skin infection that occurs around your nails. As you chew your nails, bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms can enter through tiny tears or abrasions, leading to swelling, redness, and pus around your nail.
  • Dental ProblemsNail biting can interfere with proper dental occlusion, or the manner in which you’re upper and lower teeth come together when you close your mouth. Your teeth may shift out of their proper position, become misshapen, wear down prematurely, and become weakened if you bite your nails over time. 

Tips for stopping biting your nails

  • Keep a journal to identify your nail-biting triggers, such as boredom or watching TV, and then avoid the triggers as much as possible.
  • Keep your nails trimmed short or manicured.
  • Keep your hands busy with other activities, such as knitting or playing with a stress ball.
  • Put an unpleasant tasting substance on your fingertips (vinegar, hot sauce, lemon juice or commercially available bitter-tasting options).
  • Consider behavioural therapy, such as habit reversal training.

BFRBs can be normal, healthy and / or temporary but they can also be severe, damaging and symptoms of more serious underlying conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and more. If these habits are harmless, stress-relieving activities might be effective in stopping the behaviour. However if these habits are more detrimental I advice you seek out professional help which can involve techniques such as habit reversal training.

Do you pick at your skin, pull your hair out or bite your nails? Please share in the comments box below what techniques do you find useful to help you stop doing these BFRBs.

Share this post if you have friends who need this info.




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