Can Hypnosis Stop You Biting Your Nails?

There are many claims hypnosis can help you: lose weight, quit smoking, manage chronic pain, overcome anxiety, depression, or PTSD. But does it actually work?

My name's Alex, and I'm a chronic nail biter.

I've bitten my nails since I can remember. In times of stress, or boredom, or procrastination, my fingers go into my mouth and I start to just...nibble. Not a lot. Just a bit. But then I nibble a little bit more, and a bit more, and all of a sudden, the entire damn nail might as well have come off.

Nothing I've ever tried has worked. So I gave hypnosis a go.

Mark Stephens is considered one of Australia's leading hypnotists, whose been studying hypnosis and meditation for almost 50 years. He's worked with some people you've definitely heard of, celebrities you've seen on screen, athletes you've cheered on, and journalists you've tuned into.

Most importantly, he's got the kind of deep, baritone, calming voice that doesn't just feel like it will put you to sleep, but will fix all of your problems while you do it.

"The word hypnosis means to sleep, but you don't actually go to sleep," he tells me, when I asked if it's all about getting 'veerrrrry sleepy'.

"It's more of a state of relaxation. It's basically like creative daydreaming, where you help the person by creating pictures in their mind of success or overcoming a challenge."

Mark Stephens has helped people overcome chronic pain, PTSD and anxiety, as well develop healthier relationships with food and health. Photo: 10 daily.

For nail biting, you might visualise having beautiful nails, or filing your nails, he said. And after a quick chat about why I bite my nails (boredom, stress) and why I want to stop (it looks terrible, and I feel like a more together human when I have nice nails), we begin.

Now here's the weird part about listening back to a recording of your own hypnosis session. I remember feeling very relaxed, and very sleepy, and I assumed there would be some kind of breathing or counting down to 'get in' to the hypnosis session.

What I'm actually hearing is Mark talk to me about cockroaches.

"What's something that disgusts you?" he asks.

"Cockroaches," I reply. I hate them.

He asks me to image one crawling towards me, then a whole swarm of them, crawling around my feet and up my legs and eventually, into my nails.

"What's something else that disgusts you?" he asks.

"Maggots," I reply. And suddenly I'm imagining maggots under my nails.

"What's another thing that disgusts you?" he asks for the third time.

I had to think harder, having used up my two big ones. I come up with mould. And now I imagine my nails covered in a revolting, foul cluster of cockroach parts, maggots, and furry mould. At this point, I'm not sure I'd ever want to eat finger food again, let alone chew my nails.

The best way I can describe hypnosis is that it's like the most intense guided meditation session you've ever done. I was aware of everything around me -- the construction outside, the 10 daily camera crew filming, the passing of time that means I have to get back into the office at some point -- but it didn't matter. My entire world had shrunk down to myself and Mark.

There's a strong visual element here as well, where Mark 'moves away' the image of me biting my nails, and 'whooshes' the image of filing my nails instead. And when I say 'whooshes', I mean he quite literally moves his hand towards my face and I can FEEL the vision tingling on my skin. It makes no sense, I realise, but to the untrained mind, neither does hypnosis.

He also taps into the shame of biting my nails. I don't want to bite them, because I want to be the sort of person who has nice nails -- and hopefully, therefore, someone who has her sh*t together.

"You don't want to do that anymore," he tells me. "That's what little kids do. It makes you feel ratty, and unprofessional. It's annoying."

After twenty minutes -- which feels like a lifetime -- he brings me out of the hypnosis. And I've never felt so relaxed in my life.

I've quite literally never smiled like this in my life. Photo: 10 daily.

So does it work? Well, it's been two days, and I haven't bitten my nails yet. Every time they go near my mouth, I remember Mark's voice telling me that nail biting is something little kids do, that it's unprofessional, and that while there might not be a festering clump of cockroaches, maggots and mould underneath my nails, I don't really know what's under them, either.

And if I slip up? Then I have a recorded session to listen back to, and hopefully, one day soon, I'll be the type of person with beautiful, polished, professional-looking nails, 100 percent of the time.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Lead photo: 10 daily.

To find out more about hypnosis, head to Mark Stephens' website.