The mind is a powerful tool that, even in the midst of anxiety, actively scouts information that provides a sense of hope and encouragement. And one surprising source that can temporarily soothe anxiety is online beauty and makeup tutorials.
Observing the simple but systematic act of putting on makeup can help us relax and disengage from our worries, according to psychotherapist Lee Pycroft, who is also a seasoned makeup artist. A tutorial can also serve as a confidence-boosting mirror, helping us realize that we can transform our reality.
One way this works is that watching a video helps us feel present in the moment and prevents us from anxiously anticipating what could happen or reflecting on what has happened in the past. This is called the modeling effect, according to Jo Lukins, a performance psychology expert.
“Putting on makeup is a deliberate task, often slow and careful in nature. Therefore, the act of watching someone do something mindfully and carefully may be beneficial,” Lukins told HuffPost. “Mood is contagious, so the video will project a mood that may serve as the opposite to what the person is feeling.”
Two elements that are primarily responsible for heightening distress are unpredictability and disorderliness, and watching calm, controlled tutorials can counter those elements.
“Having a go-to activity that is predictable, within your control, and brings about a sense of calm is helpful,” Lukins said.
“Makeup tutorials provide a powerful visual example of someone having control over their body and their image. In a moment of anxiety, when I feel adrift, I am anchored by these makeup tutorials.”
Those who have anxiety disorders also tend to focus on scenarios that seem overwhelmingly dangerous and are out of their control. Makeup tutorials can help alleviate those tendencies.
“They provide a logical and rational plan of action,” said Crystal R. Currie, a licensed clinical health counselor and the founder of Compass Life Skills and Counseling, a trauma-focused practice in North Carolina. “You can see how it begins and ends, all while seeing what happens in between. There’s nothing to guess, which reduces the likelihood of [perceived] danger.”
For someone with chronic anxiety, inner work and self-care can be daunting. But because makeup tutorials are an external outlet ― meaning one can watch someone else seamlessly blend different makeup products to systematically create an ideal look ― it takes the pressure off the person watching.
“Our mirror neurons get activated and we ‘experience’ what the other person is doing when applying the makeup. It forces the individual to care more about themselves, and they can perhaps connect or reconnect with an internal resource for soothing and safety,” Romy Kunitz, a clinical and developmental psychologist, told HuffPost.
“The methodological approach to makeup, the process, the change in look all give me hope ― hope that I can look better if I want to, hope that it’s possible to change your looks ― and this calms me down.”
It’s worth noting that watching beauty tutorials is not an actual therapy tool, but a brief technique to help soothe anxiety.
“The temporary response is owing to the fact that once the video is over, so is the virtual reality,” Kunitz said.
Additionally, these videos may help us for a moment and even push us to show up more confidently in our lives, but they’re not a permanent solution, especially for people who have experienced severe trauma.
“It creates a short-term effect. But sometimes an act can serve as a catalyst for change. Then we can move toward action and long-term change,” Lukins said.
We spoke with several people who avidly watch online makeup tutorials to help soothe their anxiety and provide them with a sense of hope and control.
“I’ve had anxiety since the beginning of high school. I realized that makeup videos were soothing once I started watching them without the intention of recreating the makeup. I watch it, but I don’t apply it. When I watch it, it’s both entertaining and relaxing. It’s like watching an artist painting. It’s calming and soothing, as you can zone out while watching the videos and still know what’s going on. Plus, it’s satisfying how the makeup always turns out perfectly. It’s like watching a movie that always has a happy ending ― predictable, if you will. So, essentially, it’s familiar and predictable.”
“I have had diagnosed anxiety since I was 12, and a complex PTSD diagnosis since 2018. I realized watching makeup tutorials was helping me self-soothe at work (I used to work nights in an emergency room). On my breaks, I would scroll through Instagram until I came across a makeup video and then binge-watch from there. It was around the time a lot of stress from both personal and professional angles began to pile on, but when I watch the videos, I feel nothing ― and that feels calming. I am not sure how to describe it. I get hyperemotional and responsive when I am anxious, and the videos seem to redirect my thoughts. There’s something about the expected routine with no drastic surprises or consequences.”
“I first learned about makeup tutorials the old-fashioned way ― by watching my older sister. She was in cosmetology school, so she’d experiment with different makeup looks, pigments and intricate nail art. We both grew up in a loud family that was rife with conflict, and I was an anxious child. When I needed a break from the noise or a moment to decompress, I’d go into my sister’s room and watch her transform her face. She’d often try to teach me looks that I could use on my own face, but I was never interested in wearing makeup. Instead, I found a moment of tranquility when I watched her apply her own makeup. I was fascinated as I watched each step, and the final product always made me feel gratified.
“When I moved to college, my living situation changed but my anxiety didn’t. Watching makeup tutorials has become a regular part of my mental wellness routine. One symptom of my anxiety is that I often feel like I don’t have control. When I’m having a panic attack, it can be hard to control my breath ― which makes this feeling of helplessness even worse. Makeup tutorials provide a powerful visual example of someone having control over their body and their image. In a moment of anxiety, when I feel adrift, I am anchored by these makeup tutorials. I can see, step-by-step, how people make choices to change, alter and highlight their appearance. These makeup tutorials remind me that I, too, can reclaim control of certain parts of my life.”
“I have had anxiety since I was a teen. In 2018, when I was watching a lipstick swatch video by a popular YouTuber, I realized it is oddly satisfying to see them change their look with just one swipe of lipstick. Later, I developed a penchant for contour videos. I kept analyzing my feelings and felt these videos give me some sort of hope. The methodological approach to makeup, the process, the change in looks all give me hope ― hope that I can look better if I want to, hope that it’s possible to change your looks. This calms me down. It did start with taking steps to change my appearance, but eventually broadened into other aspects of my life. I had a poor self-image, but slowly, with time, things have improved drastically. I am more organized in general, and when I feel low, I remind myself I can evolve. I love watching makeup videos and with time, have realized they really help calm my anxiety. There’s something about the transformation that gives you hope. It has a calming effect on my mind. Gradually, watching these videos inspired me to take better care of myself. My life has improved a lot in general.”
McKenzie Lynn Tozan
“I’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, bipolar disorder and manic depression for just shy of seven years, but the symptoms that led to my diagnosis have been with me for closer to 18. A few years ago, I started watching two comedians who did makeup videos ― the videos were fairly short, and they made me laugh. What I realized after a while was that I wasn’t really watching them for their comedy. I was waiting around for their physical transformations. I’d even get frustrated if they ended up not showing the full process of applying the makeup or if they fast-forwarded. I think what I love about it is the process and completion, and occasional perfection. I love watching a person draw a long wing and then fill it in. I love crazy, intricate designs on eyelids (the more colors, the better). I love watching someone contour (and people who contour themselves to look like something else is wildly fascinating). There’s amazing control in these processes, and when they come away looking flawless, it gives me this incredible satisfaction. I’ve never applied the techniques, not once.”
Responses have been edited for clarity and length.