How Regular Nail Appointments Became My Therapy
In spite of being a beauty writer by trade, I operate a surprisingly DIY ethos. I dye my own hair, do my own facials, defuzz my own legs. But I do have one major beauty indulgence. I’m addicted to getting my acrylics done. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s become almost therapeutic.
It wasn’t always this way. Back in 2020, I’d never even had my nails done professionally – never mind commonly sporting intricately designed almond-shaped claws. But after months of being inside and making little to no effort with my beauty routines, something inside me snapped. I made an appointment at my local (and incredible) nail shop, and I’ve never looked back.
Since then, barely a month has gone by when I haven’t made my pilgrimage to see my hero, Sharon, and have my hands crafted into genuine works of art. To state the obvious: I love having my nails done. And I’ve spent some time contemplating exactly why.
For one thing, for three weeks (or more, if you’re careful) you can guarantee they’ll look absolutely fantastic. This is undeniably cheering, especially for someone who spends a lot of time looking at their hands, tapping away at a computer keyboard. They represent joy in what can sometimes feel a rather drab and mundane world.
Furthermore, once your nails are done, they’re done. Good nails allow you to get away with expending lower efforts elsewhere. A casual, simple, or comfy outfit is immediately elevated by the ultimate accessory – a bold set of acrylics.
However, to really try to unpack what I (and so many others) get from having my nails done, I decided to call in the big guns. I’ve spoken to psychologists and counsellors about the self-care benefits of nail appointments, and they’ve offered some fascinating insight.
The very process of having your nails done offers a relaxing respite from day-to-day life. According to Dr Ryan Warner, “The rhythmic process of getting your nails done can be a mindful escape, offering a focused and calming activity that lets individuals momentarily disconnect from life’s stresses.”
The fact that your hands are literally occupied during the nail application process does make it a rather unique moment in life. You cannot be doing anything else at the same time.
Dr Warner says “It’s almost like a mini meditation, where your mind takes a break from all the usual chaos. So, in these moments of doing something nice for yourself, you’re not just getting manicured nails – you’re giving your mind a little breather, finding a calm spot in the middle of the everyday madness.”
Counsellor Briana Severine points out that “in our busy lives, we often don’t take time to just sit and relax. An added benefit is that nail time is often a time away from phones and can be the only time some people unplug even if briefly.”
Psychologist and nail enthusiast Dr Leslie Dobson agrees. She explains that “it’s my time to think about my life or listen to a podcast, and it’s actually the only time I set aside where my brain is not overly active.
“It’s interesting because I need the excuse of needing my nails done in order to prioritise my mental health. I am good at prioritising my mental health and coping skills, most of the time, but if life gets in the way, I know my nail appointments will always be there to ground me.”
The fun of choice
Many of us spend our lives feeling we don’t have the independence and authority over our lives that we desire. But one place you can enjoy total jurisdiction over your destiny? In the nail chair. Dr Warner agrees, confirming that “it provides a sense of autonomy and control over oneself.”
Nail designs can represent a more general form of artistic expression, too. Briana believes that “getting your nails done might be a way for someone to express themselves creatively in the same way that fashion does.”
‘Self-care’ gets a bad rep on the internet, but there is something to be said for prioritising your appearance – even if only for an hour or so every three weeks.
Dr Warner adds that “the self-care involved in grooming one’s nails nurtures a feeling of personal well-being and accomplishment, delivering a small yet tangible boost to self-esteem.” Dr Rebekah Wanic affirms that “taking the time to focus on oneself, even through something as simple as a manicure, is a form of self-care and can be a powerful act of self-love and affirmation.”
Far from being a vanity project, this type of clear dedication to looking after oneself can offer a profound impact on your life after you leave the salon. “When we feel good about our physical appearance, it can carry over into the way we feel about ourselves psychologically.
It also signals to others that you take time to take care of yourself, sending the message that you value your own well-being and they should too,” Dr Wanic affirms.
Dr Smitri Joshi agrees, confirming that “A fresh manicure can make you feel more polished and put-together, which often translates into feeling more confident in both personal and professional settings.”
For many women, a trip to the nail salon represents a moment of time spent being cared for, rather than caring for others. Briana points out that “many people especially women have personal and professional lives that revolve around taking care of others. It is a great reminder that we too, deserve to be taken care of.”
And while it may sound a little silly, looking at nice things is, well, nice. Briana explains that “our nails go with us where we go, so why not be able to look at and admire some nail art that makes you feel that little burst of joy? Finding things to look forward to or things that put a smile on our face are always beneficial to our mental health.”
I’m a total homebody and often work from home, too, meaning sometimes my nail appointments represent some of the biggest social interactions in my day. And alongside the obvious, nail-related outcome, I really do enjoy spending time in the salon.
Nail salons can genuinely feel like a community hub, and connect you with where you live. You get to meet all kinds of local people and hear all kinds of hilarious, bizarre, and truly fascinating anecdotes.
Dr Wanic acknowledges that the nail salon “provides a sense of community and belonging, which is fundamental to psychological well-being,” while Dr Joshi adds that “interacting with the nail technician and other customers can be a pleasant, socially engaging experience that boosts our feelings of connection.”
Briana agrees that the social aspect represents a huge benefit to getting your nails done. She points out that “getting your nails done with friends can be a great social activity as it allows you to spend time with girlfriends, children, siblings, or other family members too.”
I now have a Pavlovian response to walking into my nail salon. The scent of acetone and the sounds of pop music on the radio automatically let my brain know I’m about to be pampered.
Aside from the brand-new nails, there is a real sensory pleasure attached to time spent in the salon.
Dr Joshi agrees that “the tactile and sensory experiences during a manicure can be very grounding.”
Dr Wanic elucidates on this “break from the hustle and bustle of daily life as you sit at the salon. This is reinforced by many salons, which have essential oils to soothe the senses and relaxing massage chairs to sink into.”
Finding a routine
Once you’re in the habit of getting your nails done, it becomes a treat to look forward to in your monthly schedule. Dr Joshi confirms that “regularly scheduling nail appointments can become a self-care routine.
“Consistently taking time to care for yourself can have a positive impact, because we’re sending a message to ourselves that we’re worthwhile and we matter. Establishing such a routine around getting regular manicures, can provide a sense of predictability and control and predictability in daily life can be comforting, especially for individuals dealing with anxiety or stress.”
It turns out that I was right – there is more to getting your nails done than meets the eye. And I’ve seen these positive impacts play out within myself – I do feel more confident, happy, and relaxed once my talons are in order.
As Dr Wanic puts it, “Getting your nails done is more than just a beauty routine; it’s a multifaceted experience that can help to nurture the mind, enhance emotional well-being, and foster a sense of personal pride and community connection.”
Or, as Dr Joshi simply states, “Getting your nails done can be dismissed as frivolous, but there are mental health and wellbeing benefits.” So there!
Meet the experts
Dr Ryan C. Warner is a globally recognised speaker, award-winning psychologist, esteemed business consultant, and the CEO of RC Warner Consulting
Dr Leslie Dobson is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist at Dr. Leslie Dobson Psychological Services
Briana Severine is a founder of mental health agency in Denver, Colorado and a Licensed Professional Counsellor, Licensed Addiction Counsellor, and Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner
Dr Rebekah Wanic is a mindset psychologist
Dr Smriti Joshi is a Lead Psychologist at Wysa. She holds an M.Phil in Clinical Psychology and is a Member of the British Psychological Society