I have one, and it’s not something I should be doing right now.
I was driving home from work a couple of weeks ago — back when commuting was still a thing — and I heard yet another radio story on a point that had seemingly been echoing everywhere: “Don’t touch your face.”
As listened, I realized — I was biting my nails. That’s not unusual for me. I’ve been doing it without thinking for most of my life. But I realized that with a spreading pandemic, that bad habit could be dangerous.
Dr. Elie Murray, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, agrees. Murray said said the virus ne to get in the lining of my mouth, nose or eyes to infect me.
A lot of people are taking this risk. Researchers from Cornell University estimated that up to 30 percent of people have what’s scientifically called onychophagia.
My habit’s pretty tame, and my nails look OK. I consider it an “oral manicure.” But with the novel coronavirus out there, I don’t want to do it anymore.
Psychologist Nancy Keuthen of Mass General Hospital and Harvard Medical School recommended I keep my nails trimmed. She also said I should make a fist with my hand and hold it tight whenever I feel the urge to bite.
“Hold it for 60 seconds,” she said. “Over time, you then associate this behavior to the triggers instead of the behavior that we’re defining as dysfunctional.”
“It’s caused severe infections,” she said. “It interferes with some of their relationships because sometimes their hands are so raw and so painful and they can’t stop.”
“It was really interfering with my career,” she said. “You can’t be sitting in front of someone, in close proximity, fiddling with your hands and fingers and having blood run down your hands. It’s a lot of shame and embarrassment with that as a mental health provider.”
What Craigen did to stop — and what she helps her clients with — is something called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. She said we often try to distract ourselves from unpleasant emotions by doing something like biting our nails. What we need to do instead is embrace those feelings.
A lot of this is happening subconsciously. And hypnotherapist Arthur Schwartz said there’s a good way to attack it on that level.
“In a hypnotic state, it’s easier to get at that subconscious place where you can begin to change your behavior,” he said.
Schwartz said people could use the novel coronavirus as a tool to quit nail-biting. When you start doing it, visualize in your mind the electron microscope image of the virus that’s being used in the media.
“And if you understand that when you get hypnotized, that motivation will be extremely helpful for you to successfully quit nail-biting.”
Like everyone, I really don’t want to get this virus. And hopefully now I can at least reduce my risk by avoiding a habit that’s literally leaving a bad taste in my mouth.