Stress, Bad Habits, and Olivia Palermo

I have been a worrier since I was a little girl.

When I would find myself under stress as a young child, I remember wrapping my arms around myself and repeating, “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.”  I constantly talked to myself as a child and performed what felt like little play therapy rituals with toys and dolls; there are still traces of this in me today and it always seems to revolve around hair.  As odd as it may sound, playing with hair is very soothing for me whether it’s my own or someone else’s.

But worry has followed me elsewhere.  My 5th grade teacher once placed a ban on me from approaching her desk and asking her what my grade was; I’d been asking her every day for at least a month after being somewhat traumatized by my first D on a long division math assignment.  I would constantly wonder what my grades were or if I was suddenly failing.  I would do the same with friends; in preschool I incessantly asked my friends if they really liked me, to the point where some of them started to say they didn’t anymore.

In middle school, things got a little weirder when I started picking at myself.  When worry or fear would crowd into my mind, I would pick furiously at my legs, at all the little ingrown hairs.  The picking would leave these all these red bumps, making it look like I’d been attacked by mosquitoes.  In my early college years, I started picking at my hair.  I’d find dry hair strands with broken ends, and I’d snap them off.  I’ve been known to pull at my eyebrows and eyelashes too, especially at my old job where things could get really fast-paced and surprisingly stressful.

A lot of this may sound alarming, but believe it or not, many of these behaviors are very normal and I’ve been working on replacing them with other things like reading a passage, prayer, finding something little to do that I enjoy, and so on.  Obviously the behaviors spike during times of greater anxiety, but in my personal case they can be controlled with a little help and attention.  These things I deal with are more situationally triggered than compulsive problems that really need no trigger.

Please note though that some people struggle with extreme, compulsive versions of these behaviors such as trichotillomania in the case of hair pulling, which is defined as a disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out body hair (not just picking off dead ends in a fit of nerves, but literally pulling out entire patches of hair in a single episode).  Those who suffer from this disorder frequently find themselves with bald patches, or lose all their eyebrows or eyelashes from all the pulling.  Trichotillomania is overwhelming and debilitating.  It requires the help of medical and psychiatric professionals and isn’t merely a symptom of general anxiety; it is a major problem within itself.  I do not suffer from this disorder, but Olivia Munn apparently does.

However, one minor physical manifestation of anxiety that I’ve always struggled with has been biting my nails.

I have always, always been a nail biter.  I bite my nails alone, out to dinner, at work, in the movies, and around friends.  I bite my nails everywhere.  And there has never been a really effective strategy for getting me to stop.  My dad once pulled out his microscope and had me place my nails under it to show me how filthy they were (because everyone’s nails are).  And they were filthy.  And I kept biting.  In college, I once got asked out on a date by a guy in one of my classes; I declined (as I had a boyfriend), we laughed it off on friendly terms, and he said, “Awww. Okay. But hey, you should really stop biting your nails”.  And then he hopped away on his skateboard.

With all the transition that the first half of 2015 brought, you can imagine that all the worrying, picking, and biting came to a fever pitch.  Luckily I had cut my hair off in April so picking at dead ends was not much of a problem.  However, by July, I basically had no nails.  They’d turned into tiny little nubs that began to hurt whenever you’d try to bite them again.  It had to stop, or at least for a little while so I wouldn’t risk giving myself some random infection and so it didn’t sting every time I used soap when I washed my hands.  Enough was enough.

And so I motivated myself to stop biting my nails the only proper way I knew how- by buying a bottle of nail polish designed by Olivia Palermo.

I’ve been awkwardly obsessed with Olivia since seeing her on The City, and even though our styles actually aren’t that similar, I’m a sucker for nearly anything she puts her name to.  So when she debuted three bottles of nail polish for Ciate London this summer after being named their guest creative director for 2015, I felt I might have a solution to my problem.

So that last week of July was my final week of nail biting.  Every time I’d bring my fingers to my mouth, I’d remember that gorgeous bottle of brilliant red polish waiting for me and how badly I wanted a professional manicure for the first time in years (and how I’d paid for that polish and I’d better use it). Moreover, the August and September issues were out, and seeing all the beautiful nail trends had me even more motivated to prep my own nails for the season.

I’m delighted to say that the strategy worked!  And now I get to deal with the annoying upkeep of filing my nails so they don’t tear and then (gasp) snag my hair as I run my fingers through it.  But seriously, I had my first manicure about two weeks ago and wow- my hands had never looked so pretty!  I think I’m used to having nubby little troll hands, so I was extra pleased with how feminine and soft they looked.  The color is Olivia Palermo for Ciate London in Hutch.

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During the times that I’ve kept away from biting for a few weeks, I actually have enjoyed painting my own nails even if it doesn’t happen too often.  I prefer either nudes (as pictured below), or solid, classic colors for impact such as black, white, or a true red like my Palermo polish.  I always do nude on my toes when I go in for the rare pedicure because it actually can make your legs look longer.  I also love a matte topcoat; Butter London makes a good one.  I can also handle a bit of glitter around the holidays; I like chunkier glitter for impact.

What I don’t care for are brights, pinks, acrylics (I’m terrified), French tips, or any elaborate nail art beyond a simple, minimal design like these black tips.  I also don’t like nails to be too long, unless you go for the full Rihanna/Lady Gaga talon look, in which case I’d still go all black but it would probably mean getting acrylics which, again, terrifies me.  This would be about as “talon” as I’d go.  For the most part, I tend to prefer a hybrid square-oval shape (or “soft square” as the manicurist called it).

My favorite colors have come from the drugstore.  Sally Hansen’s Complete Salon Manicure lasts well over a week for me, and she’s had some amazing milky neutral colors that are so modern and flattering.  I wore the second polish from the left on my wedding day; it’s called Malt.  From the left, the others are Pumice, Honeywhip, and Bandage.

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Now that I have my nails back, I know I need to work hard to A) keep them in shape without spending money and B) control my anxious thoughts so I don’t bite them!  This should be a good exercise in seeing the smaller fruits of turning over my thoughts daily, and remembering I can be thankful and have joy instead of giving in to temporary anxiety and destroying new growth in the process.  If you struggle with anxious thoughts, remember that filling your head with worries robs you of too many things- your energy, your joy, your peace … your nails.  You aren’t meant to live that way.  xo, MR  

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