If You're An Anxious Nail-Biter, Try This Instead

If you were a nail-biter as a kid, chances are you were scolded about it. But if it's become a habit for you, you know how hard can be to quit.

"While there are many reasons someone might bite their nails, nervous energy can be one," says Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do. "Nail-biting can reduce a little tension and often turns into a common habit."


Fortunately, experts say that it's not the nail-biting that's helping — it's the mere action of doing something with your hands. In fact, Steven Levine, MD, psychiatrist and founder and CEO of Actify Neurotherapies, says that doing things with your hands can channel the nervous energy that comes with anxiety.

"It can provide a distraction from the anxiety and serve as an outlet to discharge that nervous energy," he says. "Also, by engaging other senses, like touch, it can divert attention away from anxiety to something physical."

Morin adds that if you're feeling anxious, finding something to do with your hands will help distract your mind, too.

"Finding something to busy your hands can help change the channel in your brain," she says. "Some activities may bring you into the present to keep you from rehashing what happened yesterday, or worrying about what might happen tomorrow."

Of course, if hands-on activities aren't enough to help you manage your anxiety, there are plenty of other options that can help, like anxiety-tracking apps or talking it out with a therapist. As always, it's best to talk to a mental health professional if you think you may be experiencing anxiety and are looking for ways to cope.


But if you're just looking for some non-nail-biting activities to keep your hands occupied, read on for some ideas.

If you are experiencing anxiety and are in need of crisis support, please call the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.

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If you've always thought about signing up for your local pottery class, you'll be glad to know that Morin says it's a pretty great way to keep your hands busy.

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You don't have to be an artist to draw — the point is to do something soothing that distracts you and helps you, even if it's just a doodle.

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Coloring books' therapeutic effects have been touted for years. If you're one of the few people who hasn't jumped on this trend, there are lots of cool coloring books to choose from, like this Jane Austen one and this ocean-themed one.

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Fidget Spinners

We'll be the first to admit that they're so 2017, but Dr. Levine says fidget spinners became so popular because they really are a helpful distraction, especially if you're not looking to pick up a long-term (or potentially expensive) hobby like pottery or watercoloring.

If fidget spinners aren't your thing, there are plenty of other fidgety tools you can use, like the fidget cube or fidget rings.

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Squeezing a stress ball

It may seem like a relic from '90s office culture, but stress balls are still great for when you've become a ball of stress (sorry). Plus, they come in all kinds of cute shapes and sizes now.

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Looking at your phone

We're not saying you should pay more attention to your phone than to your loved ones, but hey, looking through your social media apps or even playing a game could be a great distraction — especially if you find yourself in a more immediate awkward setting that makes you anxious.

As Dr. Levine puts it, "It used to be that if you were in an uncomfortable situation, you just had to stay in that situation. But now, people have their phones."

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Putting on hand lotion

Bonus points if the lotion smells great. Morin says that it can be helpful to engage your senses of touch and smell to soothe anxiety.

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Newsflash: Knitting isn't just for your grandmother. Knitting, or even crocheting, can be a great way to keep your hands busy and it's productive (you end up with a scarf!). And thanks to these knitting Instagram accounts, you have plenty of inspiration.

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