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At Uxmal

My fight against onychophagia (nail-biting)

I realized just the other day that I need to cut my nails frequently on this trip. This is not exactly an epiphany, but the odd thing is, in San Francisco I rarely needed to. Whenever I looked at my nails they were bitten or picked down to the skin and no amount of self reprovals helped wean me from this habit. So I contented myself with filing them down so they wouldn’t look so ugly.

Nail-biting (onychophagia) is a common stress-relieving habit. You may bite your nails in times of stress or excitement, or in times of boredom or inactivity. (Yahoo Health)

Most nail biting is merely a bad habit that most people eventually break. But constant, severe nail biting can be a sign of anxiety or compulsive behavior. In such cases, you may consider consulting your doctor or a mental health professional for further evaluation.
(The Mayo clinic)


Lets examine some of these causes as they may relate to me:

Stress – The most common cause attributed to nail biting seems to be stress. Having avoided taking on managerial responsibilities successfully in my life, my jobs weren’t very stressful. Challenging yes, stressful – rarely. That’s what you delegate up. Some people actually think that being on vacation is more stressful. Certainly one of the most stressful moments of my life was packing up the apartment.

Excitement – On the job? Rarely. On vacation? All the time.

Boredom or inactivity – They may have something here. Jobs can be repetitive and boring, specially in these extremely specialized times when you can’t deviate from your well defined pattern.

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Free of anxiety

Anxiety or compulsive behavior? – What’s the cause of more anxiety – living your life according to a well defined routine in a job you know how to do well among friends and family that you know well? Or to move to a different place every new day in a foreign country where they speak a different language; where you have to go on an expedition to find a laundry or a pharmacy or even an ATM every time you need it?

Relaxation – I added this one because the fact that we are on vacation should mean we lead a more “relaxed” life. Lets see – I am reading a pedantic tome on the history, culture and architecture of the Maya, I spend a significant time maintaining the blog, I pay bills and track the budget as usual. Windows and my DELL laptop breaks more often than I would like. And sometimes we attend intensive Spanish courses where you spend at least 7 hours studying one way or the other. And oh yes – ordering even a cup of coffee requires mental focus to use the normal conditional form correctly.

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The Dell craps out. Again.

So our life is no more relaxed or easy than it was in San Francisco, it is as hectic as usual and we have more things to do than we have hours in the day. Maybe it is the fact that we work when we want to on whatever we want to; the end result gives us creative satisfaction (as in the case of writing the blog) or delights us with new information (as in the case of learning Spanish or reading about the Maya) so there’s more “job satisfaction”. Maybe my mind is too busy processing all the new input to remember to bite nails. Or maybe its just the fact that we’re way too busy! So my remedy for nail biting? Take a long vacation!

8 Responses to “Why I stopped biting my nails”

  1. Pramod Taskar says:

    No No No, settling at one place and relaxing, not biting nails?


  2. Vinay says:

    Hmm.. Guess what I was doin’ as I was reading this. Damn!

  3. Barbara Kosnar says:

    Ditch the Dell — buy a Mac!

  4. madhuri says:

    i refuse to stop biting my nails. Toe nails, maybe. But, fingernails, never! It runs in the genes, you would need a microscope to spot nail on my mother’s fingers.
    You shouldnt give up on nails either. Start biting them again, and you’ll find something to worry about.
    Let me start a facebook group to campaign for this biting cause.

  5. Neena says:

    Hello Madhuri,
    What will you name the group?
    “The Tooth and the Nail”?
    “Get your teeth into ’em”?
    “Nail the cause”?

  6. Fred says:

    One way to decrease your stress level would be to take a hammer to the DELL.

  7. madhuri says:

    he he, good ones Neena :-) “nail the cause” is the best!

  8. Jan Bottorff says:

    Hi Shreesh and Nina,

    I’ve been following your travels but until recently, felt like I didn’t have time in my life to actually think about what to write and then type something as a reply (which is pretty silly now that I think about it).

    Five weeks ago I decided my stress level was getting way out of hand, and decided to resign from the startup I was at.

    I’ve noticed my stress level is more about how I am inside, than what’s happening outside. Stress happens when I’m remembering the 1000 things I’ve learned in the past, and using than knowledge to try and make the future be a certain way. It’s very much NOT being in the immediate here and now. I also now notice the times I feel most relaxed and peaceful, which seems to be when I’m deeply experiencing the immediate moment, and not thinking about the past or the future. A perfect example is every Sunday afternoon I now go swimming in Berkeley. There is no agenda to swim laps, or learn anything specific, or perform for anybody else. Usually there are only half a dozen other people in the fairly large pool and there is lots of freedom to just enjoy the water (which at 92 degrees, is very warm as pools go), and be in the rhythm of breathing. I notice the sensation of water flowing across my body, and how my body interacts with the water moment to moment.

    I hope you two are fully experiencing the moment you are in. THIS is the ONLY moment there REALLY is. Every other moment is just a memory of the past or fantasy of the future.

    Of course modern life seems to require we spend at least some energy out of the present moment, but perhaps a vacation is an opportunity to shift the balance to the here and now for a while.

    For those of you feeling a need for an information fix, a friend recently sent an interesting link about the very subject I’m talking about, http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/229


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