Recently, I’ve been trying to get out and walk more (as seen in the featured image), partly to get exercise, and partly to relax. Unfortunately, when I’m not relaxed, I tend to take it out on my nails.

I’ve been a nail-biter since I realised I had fingers. Why am I so addicted to gnawing at myself? It’s bad to the point where my high school teachers used to reward me for not doing it (and punish me when I did). But for some reason, no matter how sore I am, no matter how many times someone tells me about all the bacteria and icky stuff I’m ingesting, I just can’t stop.

A lot more people bite their nails than you think. I personally know a lot of fellow keratin-chompers struggling to tame the beast. If you’re a nail biter too, you’ll know how annoying it is when people tell you off for it or lecture you about it. It does nothing except make you feel bad (and bite more as a result). I’ve tried all the methods to stop; that gross-tasting nail polish (I just bite them anyway), putting plasters on my fingers (I look like a weapons-grade freak and chew the plasters), wearing gloves (impossible in summer), even getting my friend who studies psychology to design me a reconditioning exercise. (Sorry, Ruby, I ate the chips and didn’t do the work.)

If you’re at high school and you bite your nails, I’d really recommend you start trying to get a handle on it now. University is a time where bad habits can flourish. Your parents and friends know you and what you struggle with. But when you’re away from them, it’s easy to isolate yourself and hide your problems away from people who could help. While my teachers at school knew about my habit, my lecturers don’t know me from the trash can outside OGGB. On top of this, I bite worse when I’m bored; and sitting in front of Zoom for hours on end can be the opposite of engaging. This is especially dangerous in lockdown, where there is literally no-one to see you. Thankfully, I’m with my family, but if you’re on your own, it can be really tough time. Away from my friends, and sequestered from my family when I’m doing uni work, no one is there to see me tear my nails to shreds. On a larger and worse scale, this can happen with any habit: drinking, smoking, disordered eating behaviours, unhealthy sleep patterns, etc.

My Zoom setup is pretty sweet, but unfortunately, it’s only made my nail biting worse.

This is part of why it’s important to make friends at university and keep up your social life. Humans are communal creatures – we need the support of others to help us through the tough times, and enjoy the good times. My first year, I really struggled to make friends. I didn’t go out of my way to meet people, and spent most of my time hiding in my room. This made my nail biting worse. Now, I’m so grateful for the friends that I’ve met and love, but the friendships have been formed because I made the effort. Those people were there all along! This isn’t to say that making friends is a magic cure for bad habits, but it is to say that having people to share things with will make your life infinitely better.

The big question is; why do I bite my nails? What in my brain says “This gross thing that hurts you is a really good idea”? For me, I think it’s a combination of stress and boredom. Both these things really make it worse. At this point, It’s just become something I do that I don’t really analyse. (Although I did just write a whole blog post about it.) If you’re a biter, you might have a totally different reason. Figuring out why could help you find the best method to stop. If I find one, I’ll let you know.

I would love to end this article with a tale about how I finally managed to quit my keratin destruction spree, but I can’t lie to you. I think I’ll bite my nails for the rest of my life, or at least for as long as Zoom is part of it. My next step is to try and find something I can play with in my hands to keep from biting, so I’ll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, I’ll try to get through my next poetry lecture without viciously attacking myself!