Is your nail biting habit losing you jobs, sales or promotions?

They say ‘clothes maketh the man’ (or woman) but what about your fingernails too?

How good are they at showing you in the best way possible?

Picture the scene; there you are, presenting to your client’s senior board members regarding an important contract …

All’s progressing well and the client is giving out various positive buying signals, so you move to close.

“Would you like to complete the paperwork or shall I?” you might say, and pass the paperwork and pen across the table to the client …

They look down to the paperwork, then over to the back of your hand … and then glance down towards your fingernails, notice how they are all bitten down, along with indented red cuticles where you’ve been biting into those too.

They pause for a moment … “I think I’ll need to refer this on before we take it further”, your client says.

And that’s another deal placed on-hold, scuppered by your nail biting habit.

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anxiety biting nails charles stevenson coaching bwrt

What is nail biting?

Nail biting, or onychophagia / onychophagy to use its more technical names, is something which is invariably associated with a person’s unconscious need to release distressful feelings, anxiety or tension.

Nail biting can be a temporary, relatively nondestructive behaviour that is merely a cosmetic concern, but it can also develop into a severe, long-term problem. Onychophagia, or onychophagy, is considered a pathological oral habit and grooming disorder characterized by chronic, seemingly uncontrollable nail biting that is destructive to fingernails and the surrounding tissue.


This is not to be confused with Dermatophagia which is the biting of one’s own skin.

Although for a few people it can be found to be not directly related to their nerves, it is nevertheless something which is at the least a distraction and at its worst a deal-breaker since most people take it to indicate a less than capable person.

Consider how someone might look to others, hands waving around, fingers going up-down to and from their mouth as they keep trying to keep under control an automatic habit that thrives upon anxiety.

Job interview nerves, anyone, or presentation anxiety?

More often seen on men

It’s interesting to note that nail-biting is more commonly found amongst men, which is perhaps due to the simple expedient reason that women are more able to apply nail coverings in attempt to control their habit.

When attending an interview or presenting to a client for new business EVERY facet of your general grooming, appearance and deportment will be noticed, often at an unconscious level.

That being so, if there are any ‘tells’ or indications of anxiety, fidgeting, too many ‘ums’ or ‘ers’ in your speech for example, and then your bitten fingernails are noticed, that could well count against you if you are competing with any other candidates for the position or their business.

At the least a candidate or salesperson may find themselves being questioned more forcefully, since your prospect may, quite rightly, interpret the nail biting as indicating you have a problem with handling pressure.

Possible reasons

Most people will have begun to bite their nails for one of four main reasons:

1. Stress
2. Anxiety
3. Boredom
4. Anger

For most people their nail biting habit begins in their early childhood years.

Unfortunately, the way our brains function and map memories onto memories means that patterns once laid down will always be used in preference to new patterns, such that nail biting will become the ‘go to’ method whenever those similar feelings crop up again.

This is why someone who outwardly appears a confident and successful person could easily be a nail biter; coping strategies learnt all those years ago are still operating out of conscious awareness to this day.


Not only are bitten nails and cuticles are unsightly, there is also the possibility of infection being caused by bacteria from our mouth being transferred to under the skin of your fingers.

Those bacteria and pathogens can lead to a type of infection called paronychia, which results in swelling, redness, pain, and pus-filled lumps.

That infection can stick around for weeks at a time and may require antibiotics to be fully cleared from your system.

But that’s not all.

The chemical composition of our saliva is perfectly balanced to allow us to break down fats and other food molecules.

The problem, however, is that when you repeatedly put your inflamed finger tips into your mouth you’re exposing that already sore skin to the same chemicals, which means you’re going to further damage and inflame that skin – corroding it, in effect.

It’s also why too much licking of your lips can cause them to become chapped.

This bacterial transfer can occur in the opposite direction too – putting your germ covered fingers into your mouth could result in a virus, stomach bug, or much worse. 

How to stop biting your nails

There are various ways that can work to alleviate or stop this habit, including:

  • Keeping your nails short

  • Having a regular pedicure

  • Wearing a bracelet that jingles whenever you bring your fingers towards your mouth

  • Applying a bitter-tasting anti-bite nail polish to the nails

  • Consciously thinking about not doing it

  • Wearing gloves all the time

The habit replacement technique

Some people have also managed to keep their nail biting under control by replace their habit by, for example:

  • Eating a carrot or celery stick (not in the board meeting!)

  • Playing with a paper clip

  • Putting your hands into your pockets

  • Fiddling with rubber bands

  • Twiddling your thumbs

  • Playing with a stress ball

  • Chewing gum (again something to be wary of)

  • Folding or clasping your hands

None of the above substitutions, however, are actually taking the habit away, they’re really simply re-directing it towards something less injurious to both your body and your career.

Furthermore, they don’t help to deal with your nail biting habit whilst you’re asleep (except for the glove wearing, I’ll admit).

There is, however, a better, more permanent alternative.

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Hypnosis / BWRT

Whilst the above methods listed above can sometimes be successful or provide a short-term relief, when stressed many people report that they revert back to their old habits again.

This is why I recommend that if someone’s suffering from nail biting that they go to a qualified BWRT Practitioner or Hypnotherapist who will, usually very quickly, be able to help you to switch off the habit permanently.

It’s important that you speak to a qualified and trained therapist since, under some circumstances a habit can ‘transfer’ from one issue to another.

So, perhaps someone may stop biting their nails but start tapping their pen or fiddling with their hair, for example.

The good news is that after you’ve overcome this issue that any damage you’ve caused will invariably be replaced very quickly by fresh skin and nails and you’ll also have the benefit of extra confidence in the way you’re now looking.

I’ve worked with many clients, of all ages, who’ve found that the habits they had of picking nails or scratching the skin around their hands could be stopped and very quickly new skin and nails grew back.

Like to find out more?

If you click on this link you can go to my digital diary and we can schedule a time for you to have a Clarity Consultation about being released from this old habit.

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