My manicure habit started in high school. It was a difficult period for me to navigate, and in retrospect, was when my anxiety disorder first reared its ugly head. When I was especially anxious, I would compulsively pick at and bite my nails. My cuticle beds were raw and my fingernails were jagged and thin. I began trying to figure out how to deal with the situation, using those ointments and balms for nail biters and a handful of other techniques (none of which worked for me).
Finally, my mom suggested that instead of using what were, in essence, punishment tactics, to be kind to myself and get a manicure. The idea was to practice self-care, even if that’s not what I was calling it at the time. I went for the manicure and sat there for a few hours as they filed, massaged, and painted my fingernails, and it was a surprisingly soothing experience.
After high school, I gave up on the whole thing until after I graduated and was forced to deal with the anxiety diagnosis head-on. I was frantic and having anxiety attacks all the time, so I tried meditating, which just didn’t work for me…but manicures did.
Now, as I sit in the chair for the two-plus hours required to transform my nails into miniature works of art, I’m able to zone out to a meditative state, where I think about everything and nothing. Hundreds of thoughts pass through my mind without sticking and playing on loop. I watch and am mesmerized by the ASMR-ness of the whole experience and with wet fingertips, I’m unable to tune into what’s happening on my phone.
Call it trivial if you will, but this “act of vanity” is the most welcomed mental break I’ve experienced in recent memory, and it’s been the only constant act of self-care I’ve had in the past five years. Every three weeks on repeat, I’m in the chair, zoning out and tuning into myself and what I need. Plus, seeing my very long, well-groomed nails is a physical reminder that anxiety passes, and it’s not always the all-consuming monster it can feel like.
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