For many people, hair twirling is less an addiction than an annoying habit. For example, some people have the habit of tapping their feet as they wait in line or shaking one of their legs when they are seated. Sometimes people twirl their hair in response to stress or anxiety; in other cases, hair twirling may be a symptom of a compulsive disorder. Often though, habits such as hair twirling are unconscious, which means the person may not even realize she’s twirling her hair. In many cases, hair twirling is a habit that begins in childhood. Many people grow out of it, but some continue the behavior well into adulthood.
Some people twirl their hair because it helps them to feel more relaxed. It’s essentially a pacifying habit that is similar to sucking one’s thumb or nail biting. It may help to produce a calm feeling. For example, some people may use hair twirling as a self-soothing measure during times of stress or nervousness. In fact, they may engage in this act without even noticing that they are feeling stressed. Others, however, may seem to twirl their hair just about all the time.
Usually, twirling hair is not a major concern. If it interferes with a person’s daily activities, however, she may decide to seek help with letting go of this habit. Often, a person may decide to seek help with hair twirling because of the effect it may have on others. For example, a person who seems to be addicted to hair twirling may notice that her loved ones feel concerned or even irritated when continually faced with her habit.
Hair twirling may also make others view a person as less competent. For example, employers and business associates may view a hair twirler as incompetent, flaky, or even coy. In some cases, this habit may even stimulate unwanted romantic advances, as members of the opposite sex may think the hair twirler is being flirtatious rather than twirling her hair out of habit.
Sometimes hair twirling is a sign of, or related to, a condition called trichotillomania. This is a disorder in which a person exhibits compulsive behavior such as hair pulling, which may result in actually pulling out one’s hair, or nail biting and skin picking. While these acts may occur when a person has an innocuous habit, when these actions are severe or constant, they may be a sign of a serious problem. This condition often begins around adolescence and may be associated with serious internal conflicts or past or current abuse.
Hair Twirling Self-Soothing
Both children and adults use the habit to cope with feelings of unpleasantness, but it typically begins as a method of self-soothing in early childhood. Children looking to calm themselves down or entertain themselves during periods of boredom will often turn to their bodies for a source of inspiration. Wrapping hair around their fingers is just one behavior that many kids display, but it is one that can carry over into adulthood and interfere with people's lives.
While it is often associated with women, specifically women of lower intelligence, people of any gender may find relief in the process of twirling their hair. The length of the hair is not a factor in the psychological process of why people are driven to play with it.
How To Stop Twirling Hair
Hair twirling can be harmless, but it can also escalate to a point of destruction of the hair itself. Bald spots, breakage, and mats can all result from constant twirling. If you have gotten to a point where hair twirling is interfering with your daily life or causing damage to your hair, you may want to look into alternative habits to relieve anxiety.
- Fidget devices
- Hands-on hobbies
Any of the above suggestions are good starting points for reducing the amount of time you spend touching your hair, it is just a matter of what works best for you. If you find yourself obsessing over the thought process, meditation or therapy may be a fitting place to begin. On the other hand, if you are driven mostly by the tactile urge, picking up a hobby like knitting that keeps your hands busy, or having a device like a fidget spinner nearby can satisfy some of those instincts.
Hair Twirling Anxiety
If the only time you feel the need to spin or pull your hair is when you are feeling stressed, nervous, or upset, it may be that you have adopted the habit as a way to cope with anxiety. While it is not inherently harmful, you may find greater relief from treating your anxiety directly rather than just the symptoms. Talking to a doctor about medication and healthier defense mechanisms can open the door to helpful resources you weren't previously aware of.
In addition to anxiety, there are other disorders and mental illnesses associated with extreme expressions of hair manipulation. If twirling hair is just one small ritual out of a list of compulsions, you may be living with OCD. If the obsession has grown into picking areas of hair, especially moving towards the eyebrows or eyelashes, that is a strong indication of trichotillomania.
When spotted in children that are showing other stimulating behaviors, like rocking and pacing, it is possible that hair twirling is a display of autism. If the behavior is combined with any other prominent signs of autism spectrum disorder, such as delayed language, erratic moods, and social confusion, you will want to have your child seen by a professional.