Woman biting nails

Handy Habits

Idle hands are the devil’s playground. Could any expression ring more true? And not just in the figurative sense…anxiety and boredom can often lead to habits like nail biting, thumb sucking, knuckle cracking and more. But how bad are these habits really? And what can we do to stop them?

Thumb sucking is probably the earliest of these habits to develop and often stops as a child gets older but sometimes can last into adulthood. “Thumb sucking is an appropriate and useful behavior for young children,” says Linda Goldstein, MD, a Washington pediatrician. “It allows them to comfort and entertain themselves.” The habit may last beyond infancy and dwindle in preschool years but if it lasts to kindergarten age, parents may begin to get concerned. Children who suck their thumbs may begin to get teased at this age. It can also lead to dental problems like a minor to severe overbite. Prolonged finger sucking can cause chapped skin, calluses and fingernail infections.

Sabine Hack, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine recommends using poster board and stickers to make a progress chart of your child’s thumb sucking, offering rewards for abstaining. Other remedies may include placing a bitter tasting liquid on the child’s finger, especially at night, to remind him not to suck.

Nail biting is another habit that usually starts at childhood. It can continue into adolescence and even adulthood. Nail biting has many unfavorable consequences. It can leave fingers red and sore. The area of skin around your nail can bleed and become infected as bacteria passes from your fingers to your mouth. It can also lead to misaligned and weakened teeth.

Experts recommend coating your nails with bitter tasting nail polish to discourage you from biting. Other treatments include keeping nails trimmed short so there is less nail to bite and getting regular manicures to make you hesitant to bite your nails, making them appear unattractive. Alternate techniques for stress management like yoga and meditation are also suggested.

The final habit we will be looking at is knuckle cracking. This habit is a bit controversial due to the long time debate of whether or not knuckle cracking can lead to arthritis. Many studies have been conducted to this end including one done by the researchers at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. This study showed that the chances of arthritis is pretty much the same in those who crack their knuckles and those who do not. However, in at least one study, chronic joint popping was shown to lead to inflammation and weakened hand grip. This could be countered by the stimulation of the Golgi tendon organs which is the result of the joints being manipulated. This leads to a “loose” and invigorated feeling.

Those who are looking to break the habit of knuckle cracking may want to think about putting band aids on their knuckles or a rubber band around their wrist to remind them to stop. You can also replace the habit with something else, like stretching your hands or snapping your fingers. Rewards systems and alternate relaxation therapies are recommended as well.



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