How to Treat Your Hair Pulling Habit

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

Struggling with hair pulling or trichotillomania can be challenging. This habit, though often unnoticed, can lead to noticeable hair loss and skin damage in the long term.  

If you find yourself constantly pulling your hair, you’re not alone. Understanding this urge and finding effective ways to address it is crucial. 

Keep reading for practical strategies and insights to help you conquer this habit. Whether it’s an unconscious action or a deliberate response to anxiety, there are ways for you to break free from this cycle.

Understanding the Hair Pulling Problem

Trichotillomania is a kind of impulse control disorder. People with this condition feel a temporary sense of relief or satisfaction by pulling out hair from their:

  • Scalp
  • Eyebrows
  • Eyelashes
  • Facial hair
  • Other body parts

Understanding the psychological motivations of trichotillomania is crucial in helping you get this behavior under control. This body focused repetitive behavior has been linked to impulse control issues, sensory issues, executive functioning difficulties, and anxiety disorders.

People pull their hair for a wide variety of reasons. They may pull when they are overstimulated, underwhelmed, as a means of procrastination, self-soothing, or overgrooming. 

Some people find that this behavior helps quiet their mind and calm their body when they are worried, feel socially anxious, have too much to do, or don’t feel well. Some people pull when they are bored, just about to fall asleep, deep in thought or trying to focus. Some might pull because they are hyperfixated on a hair that feels or looks different than the rest. 

Treatment Approaches for Hair Pulling Habits

Hair pulling might offer temporary relief from anxiety or boredom. However, it often results in:

  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Embarrassment

This worsens overall emotional well-being. Here are some treatment approaches commonly used for addressing hair-pulling habits:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a widely used therapeutic method for trichotillomania. It helps individuals to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with hair pulling. By addressing the underlying psychological factors, individuals can develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Habit Reversal Training (HRT) and Stimulus Control Techniques

HRT is a behavior therapy designed explicitly for impulse control disorders. It focuses on replacing hair-pulling behaviors with healthier alternatives. It helps you notice the habit, teaches different ways to respond, and encourages you to take positive actions.

Stimulus control techniques help to reduce the environmental and behavioral triggers that lead to hair pulling. Changing the set up of one’s environment, modifying certain activities, and shifting one’s physical posture can help promote a greater degree of control over this unwanted behavior. In addition, creating barriers (i.e. bandaids on the fingers, mirror coverings, removing lightbulbs, etc), can help raise awareness and reverse muscle memory.

Exposure Therapy and Response Prevention (ERP) 

For individuals with trichotillomania, ERP can be beneficial. It involves gradually exposing individuals to their hair pulling urges and preventing the associated response.

Consider seeking therapy from a mental health professional with experience in treating trichotillomania. They can provide tailored strategies and support for this condition.

Practical Strategies for Overcoming Hair Pulling

Stopping the compulsive hair pulling habit involves shifting your state of consciousness or preventing the shift in consciousness before it happens. Through a variety of specific strategies and help from a highly skilled professional, you can learn to stop the impulses, manage the urges, and take back control. Here are some practical steps to help you gain control over this behavior:

Practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation. These activities can help you handle stress and anxiety better. Being more aware of your thoughts and emotions allows you to respond to stress in a healthier way.

Replace hair pulling with alternative, healthy behaviors. For example, keeping your hands busy can redirect the impulse for hair pulling. Good options include:

  • Stress balls
  • Fidget toys
  • Drawing
  • Knitting

Talk to your close friends or family about what you’re going through. This builds a network of support and understanding. People who care can help you emotionally and keep you on track, creating a positive space to overcome the habit.

Joining a support group for trichotillomania can provide you with a sense of community and understanding. Talking to others who share similar struggles can be comforting and educational.

Self-monitoring is important. Track your hair-pulling behavior by noting when, where, and why it occurs. Identify patterns and triggers to understand the habit better. 

Break down the process of overcoming hair pulling into small, achievable goals. Celebrate successes, no matter how minor, to build motivation and confidence.

Modify your environment to reduce triggers for hair pulling. Cover mirrors, wear hats, use soft gloves, or find other ways to make the habit less accessible.

Take your time and be kind to yourself.

You can also reach out to an experienced mental health professional. They can offer personalized strategies, emotional support, and help you uncover the reasons behind your anxiety. Together, you can develop effective coping strategies.

Embracing Change

Embracing change while struggling with hair pulling can be challenging, but it’s a crucial step toward healing. Here are some strategies to help you with this:

Take time to reflect on your desire for change. Identify why you want to overcome hair pulling and envision the positive aspects of a pull-free life.

Clearly define your goals and intentions. Having a specific vision of the changes you want to make can provide motivation and direction.

Learn more about trichotillomania and its impact. Understanding the condition can empower you to make informed decisions. This can also help you develop effective coping strategies.

Visualize yourself successfully managing stress and anxiety without resorting to hair pulling. Positive visualization can help reinforce your commitment to change.

Understand that change takes time. Be patient with yourself and accept that setbacks are a part of the process. Use setbacks as opportunities to learn and readjust your strategies.

Prioritize self-care to nurture your overall well-being. Enough sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise can positively impact your mental health.

Incorporate positive affirmations into your daily routine. Remind yourself of your strengths and the progress you’ve made. Treat yourself when you reach milestones. It could be a small indulgence or a relaxing activity to reinforce positive behavior.

Overcoming Hair Pulling

Treating hair pulling involves a combination of self-awareness, therapeutic interventions, and lifestyle changes. Dealing with the underlying causes and learning practical coping skills is crucial. This allows individuals to take charge of their habits and work towards healthier coping methods.

If you or someone you know is struggling with hair pulling or anxiety, reach out for professional help. Advanced Behavioral Health in Manhattan offers effective treatment plans for clients that can change lives. Contact us today to get started on your journey.

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