Every evening for the last year, without fail, I have designated a one-hour block to pamper myself silly. I run a luxurious bath, scan my bathroom cabinets for the most relaxing beauty products I own and soak up all of the stress-relieving goodness.
I’ve suffered with high-functioning anxiety for as long as I can remember. I work myself into a frenzy all day, tackling the daily grind with a serious level of hyperactivity and then get home (or, more aptly during this pandemic, just close my laptop) and crash into a state of nervousness. It’s truly exhausting. The concept of relaxing is not something that has ever come naturally to me. In fact, the idea of doing absolutely nothing used to absolutely terrify me.
And I’m not the only one, a recent study showed that more than three-quarters of adults report symptoms of stress, sparked, in part, by the last few years, where many have found the longer work hours to increased demands at home, have put extra strain on nearly every domain of life.
However, I’ve found something that has changed my life. Not a cure as such, but certainly something that helps me return to equilibrium, shake off the day and feel more like myself. It all started when one of my friends insisted that her anxiety levels dropped significantly when she started indulging in a daily bath and recommended I give it a go. With scepticism, I poured some relaxing bath oil under the running water, smothered my face in a hydrating face mask, hooked out the dreamiest smelling body scrub I owned and had my first ever truly ‘relaxing’ bath.
While at first I struggled to relax, by day three of my new bath routine I started to realise that if I broke my bath down into relaxing stages (I like to call this organised relaxation) such as face mask, hair mask, body wash and body scrub etc. I was so focused on the task at hand that I had no time to focus on anything anxiety-inducing.
Now, my anti-anxiety beauty rituals have moved far beyond a humble bath. As more and more beauty products hit the market that aim to make us feel better as opposed to look better, a calming skincare routine with some facial massage or a thorough manicure using cuticle oils and balms is enough to take my mind off the stresses of the everyday. And with a huge spike in products aimed to relieve stress and anxiety, it seems I’m not alone.
But is suggesting that a mental illness such as anxiety (that affects 6.6% of the UK population every week) can be treated with little more than a nice smelling beauty product over simplifying the matter? Possibly. You see, my anxiety definitely does still exist, it’s just that coping with it has become a whole lot easier since I started curating my beauty regimes around it.
In fact, lots of experts agree that certain symptoms of anxiety and stress can be improved with the help of certain beauty rituals and products. Kirsty Eaton, National Trainer at de-stressing beauty brand Skin Regimen reveals: “An innovative, independent pilot clinical evaluation has been conducted to evaluate how a beauty routine with specific products and a specific massage can moderate the stress responses in comparison with placebo products and without the application with a specific massage. Immediately the non-placebo products have the ability of stimulating part of the neural component associated with wellbeing, relaxation and protection from stress-related disturbances. The prolonged application has generated a positive effect in reducing cortisol and the perception of anxiety.”
And Nicola Baillie, Head of Product and Treatment Innovation at ESPA, explains how you can turn your shower into a mindfulness activity too: “When you’re in the shower totally focus attention on what you’re doing: the touch, the smell, the sight, the sound, and so on. Notice what’s happening with an attitude of openness and curiosity. For example, notice the sounds of the water, the temperature and the feel of it in your hair. Notice the smell of the shampoo/shower gel/exfoliator, and the feel of them against your skin. (my morning favorites are the ESPA Active Nutrients Super Nourish Glossing Shampoo & Conditioner and the Body Smoothing Shower Gel).
“When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, and let them come and go like passing clouds in the sky. Again and again, you’ll get caught up in your thoughts. As soon as you realise this has happened, gently acknowledge it, note what the thought was that distracted you, and bring your attention back to the present and enjoying your skin/body care routine.”
Ready to try it? Here’s how it can work for you…
Breathe it in
First up, the smells help. Founder of Disciple Skincare and Psychotherapist, Charlotte Ferguson explains: “Essential oils are an incredible solution. Clary Sage was historically used for emotional tension, shock and mild depression. The aroma also works well for pain relief, helping to calm the mind, reduce cortisol levels and reduce anxious thoughts. Alternatively, lavender is a natural anti-inflammatory that helps to calm anxiety, improve relaxation and promote a good night’s sleep.” Incorporating products rich in such fragrances and essential oils into your regime is enough to make a huge difference, just through smell alone.
The power of touch
It seems that something as simple as a quick facial massage while cleansing might be enough to help alleviate stress and anxiety. Nataliya Robinson, facial therapist and founder of Quantum Botanika, says: “When relaxed, the Parasympathetic nervous system takes over and allows the body to function in a “rest and digest” state. There are a lot of nerves within the skin and tissue. Touch is highly important to the body’s mind.” To inject some serious relaxation into your everyday cleansing routine, try swapping out your normal first cleanse for a nourishing cleansing balm that not only smells divine, but also allows for an easy facial massage too.
Taking a break
Above everything, the power of indulging in a beauty ritual to help lower your stress and anxiety levels really lies in the concept of just taking a well-deserved break. “When we really take time to care for ourselves it can do many things, firstly it allows the mind to take a break and just focus on the present moment. Anxiety can be triggered when the mind is dealing with an unfamiliar situation, so by having a regular simple skincare or beauty routine to follow, it helps to bring about the feeling of calmness,” says Kirsty. If you’re the sort of person who (like me) freaks out at the idea of doing nothing, the regularity and routine of having a beauty ritual is the perfect compromise.