When you see someone biting their nails, the first assumption that may come to your mind is that they are anxious, or maybe even suffering from an anxiety disorder. However, this assumption is just that – an assumption based on observation, and the act can easily be interpreted as a nervous tic that happens in moments of feeling overwhelmed.
However, scientists have noted that this doesn’t always have to be the case. With 20-30% of the population, most of whom women, chronically biting their nails, there has to be something more to it than just a response to anxiety.
And in truth, there is. This addictive habit which is difficult to stop has been shown to have a calming effect on the nervous system, and thus it is an excellent physical outlet for the anxious person.
The drive, however, can also come as a learned habit from a close one, like a sibling or a parent, a means of maintaining alertness when feeling bored, something that has been passed down through genetics, or even a way of causing self-harm.
Now, another trait has been put on the list of possible drives for nail-biting: It’s perfectionism.
According to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, this repetitive habit may indicate one’s need to be perfect. When the imagined perfection cannot be achieved, the frustration caused as a result makes the person bite their nails as a form of relief.
So, no, it’s not about having the perfect nails (but you could easily see that). It’s got more to do with things which go opposite the planned direction when everything seems to be over-planned.
“We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors may be perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform tasks at a normal pace,” Dr. O’Connor says in the research. “They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals.”
So, nail-biters, take into account that your urge to bite your nails may have something to do with your sense of perfectionism. And it’s really good to take things lightly and not bother too much sometimes.
In the end, where’s the rush? Simply relax and enjoy life spontaneously now and then. While perfectionism is an excellent trait, it can easily become an obstacle if you let it overwhelm you. Use it when everything depends on it, and in the meanwhile, relax!