I asked therapists to explain nail charms as a coping mechanism — and was delightfully surprised at what they said.
This week, singer and Marxist princess Britney Spears revealed an unconventional way she deals with anxiety that could teach us a thing or two about coping mechanisms. In an Instagram post that she has since deleted, Britney revealed that she struggles with severe anxiety and that looking at her 3D nail charms helps her through stressful social interactions.
Essentially, Britney said she uses her 3D nail art to ground herself during intrusive thoughts and stressful times. She also opened up about how she’s been ghosted by people close to her, which has felt both challenging and overwhelming. “I have social anxiety but like the worst kind where it’s unbearable,” she wrote. Then, she talked about the butterfly charms on her nails, per Teen Vogue. “But if you feel somewhat not acknowledged enough in life or have confidence problems, I swear these charms do in fact change your perspective… I looked at my hands, saw these charms and I exploded with conversation … not scared at all to talk.”
I’m going to be honest, hearing about how Britney used her nail charms to deal with her social anxiety made me a little skeptical. As someone who still avoids eye contact at all costs despite being on anxiety meds, I wondered whether there was any sound science behind her technique.
It turns out, there is. “Using our senses can be a way to deal with stressful situations, and in this example, nail art can be accessed through sight and touch, with the different textures it offers,” Dulce Orozco, a therapist based in Massachusetts, tells me.
Oftentimes, severe social anxiety looks like being in our own heads and excessively focusing on the judgements people might be making about us. That’s why it’s important to interrupt those cycles through grounding exercises that we can access easily and are deeply personal to us. “We do teach clients in CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to move the emphasis from themselves as social objects to being present with the situation, the person they are with, the values they want to connect with in the interaction,” Pete Kelly, an Ottawa-based psychologist and host of the podcast Thoughts on Record, tells me.
Of course, trying not to focus on ourselves during moments of social anxiety is way easier said than done. My current coping mechanisms include complete dissociation, a drink, or picturing the other person pooping. It doesn’t have to be so extreme (or intrusive), though: for Britney, it’s as simple as taking notice of a personal charm and using it as a reminder that everything is ok.
“I encourage you to use your senses and explore what you respond to the best and faster. If you are a visual person, using any type of art, or even writing a quote or using a picture of something or someone you love can be helpful,” Orozco tells me. “An essential part of this process is the intention behind it as well. Once you know what helps you, you can set an intention wishing for that object to bring you exactly what you need, and you can even visualize it radiating from it and getting inside you quickly and lovingly.”
Comrade Britney is not just an icon of women’s liberation and gay rights — now she just might be my mental wellness sherpa, too.