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Do You Twirl Or Pull On Your Hair? It Could Be A Sign Of Anxiety, OCD Or Autism

You are deep in thought, concentrating on something or just merely daydreaming - and suddenly you realise you are pulling on your hair, coiling it around your finger. A common habit shared by many, twirling your hair can either be a nervous habit, or it could be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Categorised in a group of behaviours called fidget (remember the fidget spinner hype), hair twirling can also reduce the quality of hair as the constant pulling can lead to breakage and split ends.

Today, Boldsky will tell you all about hair twirling and its negative effects.

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Why Do You Twirl Your Hair?

Doctors say that the habit of hair twirling is seen in both children and adults; however, the reason behind the habit can vary.

Hair twirling habit in toddlers and children:

In children, the habit of hair twirling may develop as a coping mechanism for stress or fatigue during the toddler years [1]. It can be difficult for a child to express emotions or control the things happening around, so the body takes charge and creates a physical coping mechanism [2].

Maybe a sign of autism: Experts say, as hair twirling is categorised as a form of stimming (self-stimulation) which is similar to biting nails, drumming fingers and jiggling your foot etc., it may have some linkage to autism [3]. While stimming is not always related to autism, some stimming behaviours can be related to a diagnosis of autism such as:

  • rocking back and forth,
  • flapping hands or flicking or snapping fingers,
  • bouncing, jumping, or twirling, and
  • pacing or walking on tiptoes.

Note: The habit of hair twirling alone is not enough to suggest that the child may have symptoms of autism [4].

Managing hair twirling habit in toddlers and children:

Suppose you notice that the habit of hair twirling is affecting your child's health, such as hair breakage, headaches, bald patches, hair loss etc. In that case, the following methods can help [5]:

  • Fidget devices can help distract your child with relief from the hair twirling habit.
  • Cutting the hair short is a simple yet effective solution for this habit.
  • Experts say that putting child-safe mittens can help toddlers to stop twirling their hair.

Hair twirling habits in adults:

Hair twirling habits in adults is possibly carried from childhood. It could also be any other underlying health conditions.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): In some individuals, hair twirling can be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder [6]. If the individual has other symptoms of OCD, the hair twirling habit might be a part of your condition. However, hair twirling alone is not enough to suggest a diagnosis of OCD.

Anxiety: In some people, hair twirling might have begun in childhood or adolescence and developed into something you do when they are anxious [7]. Suppose the hair twirling is something the person does to cope with intrusive, anxious thoughts. In that case, that habit might be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.

Body-focused repetitive behaviour: Some studies pointed out that there is a link between this type of behaviour and impatience, boredom, frustration, and dissatisfaction [8].

Side Effects Of Hair Twirling

The repetitive behaviour can have some negative effects, and they are as follows:

  • Tangled and knotted hair
  • Split ends
  • Hair breakage and weak strands
  • Bald patches and hair loss

Certain studies have mentioned that hair twirling habits can lead to trichotillomania - a psychiatric disorder which causes individuals to deliberately pull out their hair, especially from the eyelashes, eyebrows, and scalp [9].

How To Stop Hair Twirling Habit?

For children, expert intervention may be required to manage the habit. In the case of adults, these following may help manage the habit of constantly pulling on your hair:

  • Learn alternative stress-relief techniques, such as mindfulness or meditation.
  • Set a goal, such as, not twirling your hair for one or two hours at a time and reward yourself for that behaviour.
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar intake [10].
  • Sleep wearing a cap, or hoodie to avoid twirling while you sleep.

Note: If you still cannot curb your habit of hair twirling, do talk to a doctor.

On A Final Note...

Doctors say that unless your hair is becoming damaged or falling out, there is no need to be concerned. In case of toddlers and children, if the habit does not cease after trying out the aforementioned options, talk to a doctor.

Read more about: autism ocd anxiety