From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Today, I saw three women at a society luncheon hide their fingernails. In a fashion -
conscious society such as ours, what can be more tell-tale than the habit you can't
hide..."Help! I still bite my nails!" For those who would rather quit than hide,
I recommend the following approach:
- Become aware of when you bite your nails, and look for the specific circumstances under
which this habit kicks into gear. When you find your fingers in your mouth, notice where
you are, what just happened, what you're thinking about, and what you're feeling. For
example, "I'm in the office, my boss just pressured me for a report, I just don't
have enough time to get everything done."
- Write this information down, along with the time and date, and keep a record of when
your nail-biting occurs. The act of nibbling one's nails serves various functions for us;
that's why it happens on such a regular basis. The function in this case may be "it
gives me something to do with my hands," "it gives me something to do with my
mouth," or, "it provides some sort of emotional support, like calming my
- When you've kept your record of this activity for a few days, begin to identify the
function each time you reach for your mouth. For example, "When I'm on the telephone,
my hands want something to do," or, "When my boss pressures me, I need to calm
my nervous energy," or perhaps, "When I'm trying to think, my mouth wants
something to do."
- When you've discovered various functions served by this habit, consider these and other
possible substitutes: To keep hands busy; try doodling, tapping pencils or needlepoint.
For a mouth activity; try chewing gum, chewing on pens, sucking mints or even chewing only
the skin around the nails. To calm the nerves; try writing down your thoughts then tearing
the paper up afterwards. Take a walk to use up some nervous energy or think about how you
would like to handle the same upsetting incident in the future. Remember: Substitutes may
be changed until you've found what's right for you.
- Become aware of the moment when you are starting to bite your nails and begin doing your
substitute activity right away. Plan ahead to have your substitute ready and rehearse the
substitution process in your mind ahead of time.
- Look at your hands and imagine how they will look with full grown nails. Close your eyes
and visualize them looking just the way you want them to look. Repeat this exercise often.
- Begin to file and polish your fingernails daily and watch them grow. They'll make you
proud of what you've been able to accomplish.
ęCopyright 1986, 1995, Jane Rosen-Grandon, All rights reserved.
Return to Personal Growth
Return to Table of Contents
Last Updated October 18, 1998 by Gary M. Grandon,