I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve been biting my nails since I was a little kid. Even as an adult my fingernails are sometimes a ragged mess if I collapse into the nervous habit of chewing on them.
I own a nice pair of nail clippers with both cuticle and nail trimmers. When used diligently, that instrument quells the instinct to gnaw at my nails. But it is particularly while driving that I not-so-idly bite my nails. If there is even a nub or rise where it feels uneven the desire to gnaw it down takes over.
Biting my nails is an anxiety relief mechanism. Most oral fixations are. Smoking. Eating. Even drinking. All compensatory attempts to assuage or gnaw at our feelings.
But now that instructions related to Coronavirus stipulate that we’re not supposed to touch our faces, much less gnaw on our fingertrips, the nail-biters of the world really have to consider the dangers involved in their not-always-secretive habits.
The best cure for anxiety, I have found over the years, is definitely exercise. Running in particular has been my go-to workout treatment for dealing with stress, be it perceived or real.
Of course, choosing to compete in a sport creates a stress all its own. That’s the tarsnake of sports as a rule. We’re supposed to have fun with that, not let it stress us out.
Before becoming a full time runner through high school and college, I played competitive baseball and basketball and did well at it. I lived for sports. And beyond that, there was tennis for fun, and soccer.
In my adult years I took up competitive cycling, even racing in criteriums, the ultimate nerve-wracking experience if there ever was one. Winging along at 25mph in a pack of not-so-sane cyclists takes nerve, to say the least.
Now I’m a triathlete, and with that challenge I have had to overcome the fear of open water swimming, a profound symbol for anxiety if there ever was one. Paddling into the blue when you can’t see the bottom can cause panic attacks in even the most calm athletes in the world.
But that’s the issue. A healthy amount of coping strategy is learned through competition in sports. Standing on the starting line of a road race with 3,000 other people milling around you is a keen lesson in knowing how to calm your nerves, or at least funnel them into effort rather than fear.
Stress and life
I have been through plenty of stress in life, particularly during the period when my mother and wife were both diagnosed with cancer, and my father was already a stroke victim. With all those health needs beckoning attention, I learned how not to panic when something went wrong, and it often did.
Thus I know how to recognize stress and how to compartmentalize fears when necessary. It was March 26, 2013 (seven years ago this week) when my wife ultimately passed away from ovarian cancer after eight years of cancer survivorship. We lived through treatments and tests. But the worst was nervously waiting for test results and spending anxious nights and days in the hospital after surgeries when the sound of a fart was greeted with joy by the nurses and doctors because it meant her digestion system was back in working order.
My high school track and cross country coach called me the week after my late wife was first diagnosed with cancer and said, “Your whole life has been a preparation for this.” What he meant is that competition in sports does teach you how to plan and cope with the unexpected. He made me think back to all those challenges, and it served me well when things seemed overwhelming.
But that’s the issue with anxiety as a rule. It is the sensation that there is something to fear all the time that fuels chronic anxiety. It’s hard to describe to people that aren’t wired that way, but it is quite real.
The irony in all this is that given the anxiety surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, more of society possibly appreciates what it’s like to live with native anxiety…how it feels to exist with a sense of fear lurking about the mind all the time. If that’s the case, welcome to the life of nail-biters the world over. We’ve been wondering when you’d start to see things our way. And let me assure you, biting your nails can be much more fun than you think. Perhaps you should give it a try.
Or maybe not. It’s a pretty bad time to start a bad habit like biting your nails.