Ask the experts: Can hypnotherapy help me stop nail biting?

Nail biting, or onychophagia, is a type of body-focused repetitive behaviour. For many people who bite their nails, it is an ingrained habit which makes it harder to stop.

Person biting nails

Fortunately, hypnotherapy can be an effective way to break this habit. Here, cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, Morag Stevenson, answers your questions on hypnotherapy for nail biting.

Why might people bite their nails?

There probably isn’t just one reason you nail-bite. When you take a step back and observe when you chew your nails, several reasons may emerge. It’s your way of dealing with nervous tension when anxious thoughts and overwhelm make your body and mind agitated and fidgety. It can be a habit you engage in when you’re bored and don’t know what to do with yourself.

The chewing, inspection, biting, and pulling keep you engaged and make you feel busy. It can also be your way of procrastinating. While you nail bite, you aren’t accomplishing your tasks and yet it feels as if you’re busy as your hands and mouth are hard at work. In sum, it’s something your body and mind are ‘naturally’ drawn to when you are either overstimulated or understimulated.

Learn more about body-focused repetitive behaviours on Hypnotherapy Directory.

How does hypnosis work to stop nail biting?

The relaxed yet focused hypnotic mindset invites you to leave your everyday life for a while and shift into an imaginative realm where you can experiment with how it feels to behave and think differently.

To stop nail biting, you can use hypnosis to both free you from limiting beliefs that hold you back and strengthen new, more useful thoughts and behaviours. The negative thoughts are weakened as you experience a beautiful visualisation that reinforces a future image of well-cared-for fingers and nails.

Your mind is receptive and you feel confident and eager to use your creative, helpful changes in reality. This strong imagery will remain rooted in your unconscious mind long after your hypnosis session and will drift to the surface if you start to pick. You’ll be surprised how you naturally leave your nails alone as you tune back into your visualisation’s positive and powerful atmosphere.

What can I expect from a hypnotherapy session?

You won’t be put into hypnosis from the start of the session. In hypnotherapy for nail biting, your practitioner will first gently help you open up about the details of your habit: where, when, and how you nail bite. A habit is perpetuated because it gives you something and so the hypnotherapist will encourage you to identify and recognise the pleasure or ‘reward’ you get from nail biting.

You will then elaborate coping strategies together which may include learning relaxation techniques to use if tense or anxious, identifying the trigger situations and effective ways to navigate them, and creating a strong coping affirmation and movement to use if/when you nail bite.

Finally, hypnosis lets the dreamy, intuitive, unconscious part of your mind reinforce your goal and coping strategies. Your words and images will be woven into a personal script that you can listen to regularly to help you achieve your dream!

What are your top tips for stopping nail biting at home?

  • Have a self-care nail kit, file, hand cream, and a cuticle clipper with you. Instead of picking, use this.
  • When you notice you are nail-biting, stop, close your hands into gentle fists, and take a couple of conscious gentle breaths, extending the exhale. This will calm down your nervous system and disrupt the pattern.
  • Create your affirmation, repeat it regularly, and write it down, too. An affirmation reinforces your new mindset. Make it short, positive, and forward-looking e.g. “I look after and nurture my hands.”
  • Challenge any negative thoughts: “I’ll never be able to stop.” It’s not because we have a thought that we must believe it. Challenge it with a big ‘No!’ And imagine a stop sign flashing in your mind.
  • If you do bite your nails, don’t feel you’ve failed, just carry on applying the top tips. Little by little, the habit will fade.

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (Issue 85, 2024). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app.

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Written by Emily Whitton
Emily is a Content Creator & Marketing Coordinator at Happiful and a writer for Hypnotherapy Directory.
Written by Emily Whitton
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