Nailing Stress

By Erika Nelson

“I actually used to be a nail tech … not that you can tell.” I force a laugh and brandish my bitten stubs. I admit it — I’m a nail biter. Gross and unattractive in the best of times, it’s a literal life-and-death habit in Corona times — a danger to not only myself by introducing new microbes to my system, but to other people as well. Each bite transfers germs from my mouth to what I touch. I don’t bite in public, sanitize regularly and thoroughly scrub my fingers with soap and water before leaving and after returning to my apartment. But when I’m at home, in front of my laptop … I find my fingers floating to my lips.  

I’ve mostly been able to kick this habit. I say “mostly,” because no matter what methods I use to quit, I always come back to the form of tension-relief that borders on self-cannibalistic. If there’s a pervading collective emotion in the world today — it’s stress. Stress from isolation. Stress from economic turmoil and job insecurity. Stress from systemic injustice. Stress from having to “keep calm and carry on” with our regular lives, as if all of this is normal, when things are as abnormal as they’ve ever been. When I spoke with a PSU employee earlier this week, he summed up what I, and a lot of other people, are feeling: “a kind of stress I’ve never known.” We’re all bobbing along with the bumps and dips of the new-case graphs; paddling however we know how while the water continues to rise. 

Stress. So much stress. Meditation apps abound. #selfcare tips feature prominently across social media. The CDC even has a page on ways to deal with stress during the pandemic. I’ve tried pretty much everything I can to translate an unsanitary, destructive coping mechanism to something constructive that involves minimal microbe transfer … but gratitude journals and deep breathing never seem to be as instantly satisfying as shredding the tips of my fingernails with my teeth. 

The only thing that seems to work to curb the compulsive nibbling is engaging in what I used to do for a living — doing nails — but on myself. The process of meticulously applying polish is soothing, and forces me to slow down and exercise hand-eye coordination. Carefully placing polka dots and painting tiny flowers on my nails is just what I need to distract my thoughts — even for a few minutes — from everything else. When I’m done, I can’t bear to chip my painstaking work by biting!

Decorating (and maintaining) my nails has been helpful at chipping (haha) away at stress. Stress always comes back … but in the moments that I’m picking a color, filing, putting brush to nail … stress is on vacation. There are myriad reasons why I decided to ditch being a nail technician to go back to school — that’s a post for another day — but I still adore everything to do with it. There are many ways to de-escalate stress: for some people it’s yoga, video games or screaming into pillows. Some people are taking this time in quarantine to experiment with new hobbies or re-discover old ones. Thank goodness for my stockpile of polishes to get me through another day without mangling my own fingers.

Crafting in Quarantine: “Quaranzines”

By Erika Nelson

Whether in mandatory or self-imposed isolation, people are turning to hobbies like arts and crafts to keep themselves occupied.  One fun project having a moment on social media is zine-making: The hashtag #quaranzine has over 5,000 hits on Instagram.

Merriam-Webster defines a zine as “a noncommercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter.” There is no right or wrong way to make a zine — it can be handmade or digital; thrown together or carefully planned. Zines can be anything you want — a mini-book of self-published poetry, a political manifesto, your own comic book…the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and materials available. 

I made two different zines using this paper-folding tutorial. One is called This is Your Life Now, and I used acrylic paint and magazine clippings to create a tongue-in-cheek manual for embracing the new normal. 

I included a spread featuring things I do in quarantine, such as sleep, play games… 

…and fantasize about being productive. 

My second zine was a parody of Time magazine: The cover features an image of more innocent times — a crowded beach — and the headline, “There will be no summer (and probably no autumn).” 

Of  course, I had to include fake advertisements. 

I encourage everyone to try making their own quaranzines! Arts and crafts do more than just fill free hours — they can be therapeutic during scary and uncertain times, and sharing your art on social media can help foster community in a time of isolation. So grab some art supplies, fire up the publishing software, or simply use a paper and pen — let’s do some quarantine crafting!

Lots of Lather

by Beth Royston

I’ve always enjoyed hands-on hobbies, like sewing, ceramics and gardening — to name a few. Soapmaking always seemed really interesting and one of those things that you don’t really think about how it’s made! I made the switch a few years ago to bar soap only. Most of the time I buy locally from other small-business creators. I have sensitive skin and have found that my skin is a lot happier when using these kinds of cleansers! I was worried about my workload and thinking about maybe starting over the summer; but as we all know, our current worldwide situation grants some of us a lot of time at home. I decided to jump into it, and my journey has been exciting, hot to the touch and rewarding.

There are a few different methods of making soap, all tuned to different levels of skill, preference for final design, colors and more. I decided to go with one method called cold-process after some deliberation on what I wanted my creations to look like. The downside of cold process, I would say, is that you have to wait about a month before being able to use your soap, as it needs time to “cure.” However, I appreciate the designs I’m able to do, and it’s kind of exciting to have to wait. I’ve been making several batches with a variety of different colors and scents, causing my house to smell very different every day! My favorite so far has to be the first batch I ever made, tomato leaf scented. It’s such a specific scent, but I was elated to find the candle and soap supplier I was purchasing from had it! It smells exactly like being outside on a summer day and smelling your tomato plants. Most batches have gone well, however, I’ve had a couple that went not so great. Sometimes, the fragrance you use can cause the mixture to seize, or turn to a solid in a matter of seconds. It’s still safe to use after cure and workable, but it can make it hard to get definition in your final design, and is a little cumbersome to use! Sometimes suppliers warn you ahead of time to expect this, sometimes you find out the hard way depending on the temperatures of your ingredients.

Overall, I’ve had a blast trying out my new hobby, and am really excited to share the final result with friends and family. And, of course, to have a lifetime supply of soap to myself. It’s made me want to try other hobbies that share a supplier, like candlemaking! I’m trying to pace myself for the moment, but the possibilities seem endless.

I’d warn, however, that certain methods of soapmaking, including cold process, involve toxic chemicals and can be dangerous. It may not be right for you if you don’t have proper ventilation in your space or can’t properly prep. However, if it sparks your interest, I’d definitely recommend it! There’s a lot you can do design and scent-wise with soapmaking, even if you’re just making a batch for yourself every few months. Have you begun any fun and interesting quarantine hobbies?

You can follow my soaping journey on Instagram @poppy_and_harper!