Hair Twirling and Trichotillomania
Hair twirling may seem to be a harmless habit, but there is a real risk that it can develop into something more serious. It is not uncommon for people to sub-consciously engage in repetitive behaviours such as foot tapping, shaking the legs or hair twirling in response to stress, anxiety or even tiredness. According to sensory integration theory these behaviours serve to soothe excessive or elicit dampened sensory stimuli. While for most people this will never be more than a habitual response, for some this can signal the beginning of compulsive hair pulling disorder.
From Twirling to Pulling
Trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling disorder is characterized by the repetitive, compulsive pulling of the hair to the extent that it often causes balding or long term hair loss. There is no one specific cause for a person to develop trichotillomania, but it is often reported to provide the individual with a sense of release from anxiety, stress or boredom. Like all body-focused repetitive behaviours (BFRBs) it is believed that the person experiences this release when engaging in the behaviour and then seeks out this experience again and again until the hair pulling response becomes habitual. In this way, harmless hair twirling can evolve into habitual hair pulling, and eventually into a disorder.
When Should You be Concerned?
Two of the key criteria for diagnosis of trichotillomania is that the individual is not able to stop engaging in the behaviour despite attempting to do so, and that there is noticeable interference of the behaviour with the person's daily functioning. For example people who pull their hair often avoid situations where balding or thinning hair will be exposed such as the beach or the poolside. When hair twirling increases in frequency, the person is not able to stop, or they start experiencing the urge to twirl the hair to the extent that they seek out opportunities to engage in this behaviour at the expense of other activities. For example the person may stay in the bathroom for longer or choose to stay home rather than go out.
Prevention is better than cure
The minute there are signs of your hair twirling becoming addictive in nature, it is advisable to seek professional advice. It is also important to develop awareness and understanding about your twirling behaviour. By doing so you will be able to identify precipitating factors that contribute the your hair twirling. Although trichotillomania is not well known even among the medical fraternity, it is advisable to speak to a health professional about your concerns. You can also get valuable information from the various website communities such as the Trichotillomania Learning Centre (TLC) or the Canadian BFRB Support Network (CBSN) who do great work in raising awareness about the disorder.