I discovered makeup and my anxiety in the same year. Before I turned 20, I thought anxiety was the feeling before a big test. I wore red lipstick every now and then because it was fun. Before I turned 20, my beauty routine and my anxiety weren't even things I really recognized at all in my daily life, let alone things I thought of as connected. But as I entered my junior year of college, something shifted.
Like each person's individual beauty routine, everyone's anxiety is a little bit different. Generally low maintenance, and sometimes dramatic, mine looks like this: It starts with a generous application of worry. I cover everything evenly with this worry — from the top of my forehead to the very pit of my stomach. It sits on top of my pores, sinking into my each layer of my skin, coating my brain. When I try to tell myself that the problem I'm fixating on isn't really a problem at all, my worry is there to cover up rationality. It hides and blurs it so entirely that it disappears altogether. Sometimes — often, these days — it's so lightweight and so subtle that I can barely tell it's there. I have learned to make it work for me, for my life, for my routine. And I know now that anxiety doesn't really ever go away entirely. But sometimes it shuts the hell up. And, for me, it's the often the quietest during my beauty routine.
As a fashion and beauty writer who was primarily interested in fashion to begin with, I was essentially thrown into learning about makeup beyond basics. Suddenly I had 20 different lipsticks, was learning about new ways to blend eyeshadow, and realized that having more than one palette — which had seemed completely useless and overwhelming before — was thrilling. I learned what toners and serums and oils were and I really, really enjoyed putting them on every night. Most people who have an interest in beauty know that makeup and skin care can be fun. But I realized after a year or so of being in the beauty world that these things didn't just entertain me, they actually calmed me.
It was easy to obsessively think about, for the thousandth time, whether or not those headaches I was having were actually brain tumors and-oh my god-I'm-going-to-die-aren't-I when I was laying in bed at night trying to fall asleep, or zoning out in a class. But it wasn't so easy to fixate on the same thoughts when I was trying to master a cat eye or expertly work through six skin care steps. During those times, my mind slowed, the worrying paused, and I focused my attention on one small task that I was completing for no other reason than it made me happy. When I realized that I could do those small tasks every day, something clicked.
I focus on my makeup or skin care routine because it's a daily, personal ritual that allows me to tune everything else out. It's meditative in the sense that, every day, it gives me the chance to put all my attention into something that doesn't have any space at all for worry. It pushes all of it away and what I'm left with is the simple act of doing something that makes me feel good.
Even on days when my mind is a tangled web of irrationality, makeup is simple. Skin care is basic. And when I don't know why I can't stop worrying about something — when I wouldn't dare to claim that anxiety as representative of me, there is my beauty routine. And that's all mine. I own those moments.
My beauty routine doesn't look like everyone else's, and it's not the same every day. Generally low maintenance, but sometimes dramatic, mine usually looks like this: I start with my favorite moisturizer, evenly applying it to my face and neck. I don't worry about anything but that. I cover all my freckles and blemishes with a thin layer of foundation. I don't worry about anything but that. I add some concealer, eyebrow tint, blush and bronzer, lip balm, and set with powder. I don't worry about anything but that. I use as much highlighter as I can, because I love it. I don't worry about anything but that. I look in the mirror. Deep breath. I know I might be anxious again in an hour, or a week, or a year. But I'm not right now. And I don't worry about anything but that.