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Hi,

I broke up with my boyfriend last month and we're now both in the process of trying to find a new apartment while still living together for now. Things have been really, really stressful lately. I always had a bit of a nail biting habit not really out of stress I think but don't know, just habit I guess. Now I'm biting my lips and the inside of my cheeks as well. I'm not absolutely sure it's stress related but I have a feeling it could be... 

So what's going on here? Is this normal and will it pass when the stress does or do I need to do something about it?

TIA

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I am sure it can be related. Biting your lips, cheeks and nails doesn't necessarily mean it is because of stress, but it sure as hell can be related.

I remember having a very stressful period of life and I bit the inside of my lip so badly, in the night while sleeping, that I STILL have quite a bit of scar tissue there over a decade later. You can actually see the teeth marks. This is true. It is not pretend. I know it sounds unbelievable but it is for real.

When I wasn't so stressed any more the biting stopped again and I never got any therapy or anything like that. You could try and unwind by doing yoga, tai chai, breathing exercises, or even just jogging. Physical activity really helps reduce your stress levels. But of course the most important thing is that the trigger to your stress is removed.
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Well yes — as you are already experiencing for yourself. If you are going through an extremely stressful time, and you just now started seeing these symptoms then yes, of course they are related! 

Do you need to do something about it? That is a more difficult question. Not only is biting your nails and chewing on your lips and the inside of your cheeks unhealthy because it can cause physical injury and even lead to infection, the state of mind you are in is also not good for you. 

At the same time, rough times will happen. They are part of life. So if you are here to ask whether you have a diagnosible mental issue, the answer is probably no. That doesn't mean you can't benefit from therapy if you feel like you need it, or otherwise try to distract yourself with positive things, such as reading a lot, taking walks in nature, and doing exercise. (All of these help me.)

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In your case, these physical habits (nail biting, biting your lips, biting your cheeks) are quite clearly related to stress. I would like to ask you, though, whether if you tell yourself not to do these things, either in general or when you catch yourself in the act, if you can stop them right away? ("Oh no, you're biting your nails again, stop that!") 

If you are aware that this is damaging and you still are not able to stop yourself when you catch yourself doing it, meaning it is not a mindless habit but something you are actively doing to yourself, then I would be concerned and look for counseling regarding this. It can even be seen as a type of self harm in that case. 

If you are able to control it though, I would simply look for healthier coping mechanisms. 

Rosie

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Thanks, that was quite helpful.

It's exactly like Rosie says, when I become aware that I am "messing" with my nails, cheeks or lips, I think "oh, not again" and I put a quick stop to it... only to notice myself doing the same thing again later. But no, I am not doing it on purpose. It just happens.

Because I am still living with my now ex for now, I try to hold it all together and not show signs of overt emotion, sadness, anger, disappointment, all those things. I feel like I should be in a state of grief right now because I have lost something I thought would be forever, but it turned out differently. And I can't show that because I still see him all the time, everything is the same, except nothing is the same. Does that make sense?
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That makes all the sense in the world. What you are dealing with right now is an objectively hard situation. Nobody sane would be able to live with their ex with whom they've just split up and not experience lots of stress, sadness, etc.

This doesn't mean you need therapy or meds, etc. It means you need time. It means you need to get your new life on the road and give yourself space to grieve, and then move forward. I'd try to get out with my friends, spend lots of time in nature, go to the gym, that kind of thing. Keep yourself physically healthy. Get enough sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Get fresh air. Keep yourself busy in healthy ways.

Don't be too hard on yourself. Things will get better.
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Shayna, you are clearly under stress right now. Stress can cause you to do things like bite your nails and cheeks, have sleep problems, have an upset stomach, a headache, and chest pain as well as more mental symptoms like feeling angry or overwhelmed. You can also stop exercising, start drinking or eating too much, etc. 

You want to get yourself a good stress relief routine. Yoga, exercise, socializing, and engaging in activities you find meaningful are all great relaxation techniques for anxiety and stress. You could even try some breathing exercises if you like. 

I am sure things will get better for you over time, but in the meanwhile take care of yourself. 

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I hear you. Breakups suck. I am hoping never to go through another one. (LOL, isn't that what women who have just delivered a baby always say... only to do it again a few years later, seemingly totally having forgotten the pain?)

Common tips for dealing with a breakup are making sure you take care of your physical body, talking it out with friend and reflecting on it yourself, keeping yourself busy, finding you as you again rather than you as a part of a relationship, and doing things you love. Don't go overboard with rebound relationships or excessive shopping, but have fun and focus on you. This is a selfish period.

My guess is that taking your mind off this will reduce the nail, lip and cheek biting.

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Thanks, you guys, I really appreciate that!

I have actually been house hunting over the past few days and have spent lots of time with friends, keeping my mind off things I would rather not think about. I am not done processing this breakup yet and it is still incredibly stressful to see my ex (even calling him that feels strange) every day, but there are moments where I find myself looking to the future, and feeling okay.

The strange thing is that this was not a turbulent relationship. At all. If anything, it was... boring? lacking? Something like that. Problems were bubbling under the surface the whole time if I am going to be totally honest but my ex, there's that word again, was never a talker. He is more of a bottler upper. So all this tension I am feeling is not just being sad over what happened, but also, I don't know, feeling like I finally can let my feelings show. Again, I am not sure if it makes sense.

The nail biting and cheek biting is still happening, my nails are stumps. I think I am going to get myself a gel mani to try to fix the nail part of things.

Forward, right?
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Ugh. I feel you. Been there done that, last year actually. It was me who ultimately broke up with my exBF, and there was definitely lots of emotional anguish involved. After I made the decision I felt so much better so very soon after. I'm feeling once you move to a place of your own you're gonna start feeling like you can get on with your life. The nail biting, biting your lips and cheeks, etc that you mention are likely just nervous behaviours that you're using as crutches. Take away the cause and they'll probably go bye bye as well very soon.
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