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Why Am I Addicted to Hair Twirling?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

  • Meditation
  • Fidget devices
  • Hands-on hobbies
  • Therapy
  • Journaling

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.

Related Disorders

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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon1005535 — On Sep 17, 2021

I’m 28 and have twirled my hair my whole life. It has gotten much worse through my late twenties and I now have one side of my hair much shorter than the other.

My partner stops me whenever I twirl my hair at home, however, I find when alone, I often freeze up and can twirl my hair for hours while staring at a wall and thinking about all of the things I need (or sometimes really want) to be doing but I'm unable to stop twisting. I can even just stare at my running shower for what can seem like forever, frozen in time and twirling.

I’ve started wearing my hair in a bun at work as I couldn’t get anything done due to the twirling and although I get the urge to pull strands out to twirl, I can mostly distract myself with work. It can be quite debilitating at times. I was recently diagnosed with autism, ADHD and anxiety and have learned that my behavior is called stimming. It never used to be much of an issue but it has definitely consumed much of my life in recent years.

By anon995176 — On Apr 09, 2016

I grew up around five teenage girls who twirled their hair and so it is something I have done my whole life. I'm now 30. It just feels so good! I don't pull it hard, but I twist it and slide it and wrap it around my fingers and make a loop and bounce it with my other finger, I can even tie knots in a strand with just 3 fingers. They slip right out of course but I just cannot stop.

When I cut my hair short I don't do it and don't even think about doing it. But if it's long--I'll sit and twirl all day and even at night I'll keep myself awake with it, particularly if I have a nice good-sized and smooth strand I've been working with. I find it causes some lag in productivity if I get going at work because I will just twirl and let my mind wander into the pleasure of it rather than do my work!

I'm right-handed buy prefer to twirl with my left hand.

People always ask me if I am sexually frustrated, since supposedly hair-twirling is a sign of that? I don't think so but...

I honestly do not know why I do it other than that it feels so wonderful on my fingers!

By anon994529 — On Feb 16, 2016

I've been a hair twirler since child hood. Being a guy if my hair is short enough it provides no satisfaction and I can make myself stop that way. However, if my hair gets longer than about 1.5 inches, I subconsciously twirl it especially relaxing at home watching TV or thinking. I try to avoid it at work as coworkers judge you.

At home it kind of bugs my wife and daughters. They will sometimes point it out to me when I don't realize I'm doing it. My wife says "you're gonna go bald in that spot" but I have a full head of hair and it feels good in my fingers. These comments are helpful if for know better reason to see others with the same issue. Thanks for posting!

By anon992239 — On Aug 24, 2015

I do it too and I didn't even realize I have a bald spot now.

By anon991377 — On Jun 16, 2015

I have twirled my hair since I was a baby. I actually used to take my pacifier and rub it in my hair to the point where I had a bald spot on my head and my parents got rid of the paci!

Growing up I noticed it not more of "twirling" my hair but rather I would take it and rub it on my face (near the corners of my eyes and my lips). It just feels good and I can't help it!

I have noticed, however, that I play with my hair more when I'm at work or studying or when I have to think through things more thoroughly.

Like right now. I had to stop playing with my hair to type this. Ah, old habits die hard.

By mama1982 — On Feb 01, 2015

Why do I have to play with my hair and my boyfriend's hair on any part of his body that has hair. I twist it between my index finger and thumbs. I do it all day long non stop. Please tell me why I do this. Thanks so much for listening.

By anon984810 — On Jan 11, 2015

My hair twirling is out of control. I have been doing this since I was a baby. My mother used to have to cut the hair from around my finger because I would get it so tightly wrapped around my finger.

I am pushing 40 now and although there was a period of time I was not doing it as much, I am back at it full force, day in and day out. When I am at home, I can twirl for hours, sometimes not being able to go to bed because I can't stop twirling my hair.

I have one section that I twirl and even though I don't necessarily pull my hair, I do get some sort of satisfaction out of hearing my hair snap off from the root. This part of hair twirling is new to me.

I don't know how to stop.

By anon972960 — On Oct 07, 2014

I twirl and tap the ends of a section of hair on my skin and constantly run my fingers through my hair. It's definitely a relaxing, self soothing thing but it's also an insane quest to make and keep every millimeter as smooth as possible.

When my hair feels coarse, tangled or rough, I just go at it nonstop. I've done all of this since I could grab my mother's hair as a baby and I'm 38 now. It drives my husband crazy and my hair, although it's never been great or even good, is downright strung out and terrible now. I don't know how to stop. I don't pull my hair out but it's comes out and breaks off with all this activity. It's super thin, scraggly and unhealthy. Help!

By anon961113 — On Jul 15, 2014

I twirl constantly. I'll end up with little knots at bottom and I have to break it off. So now one side of my hair is shorter. I'm left handed, but I can only twirl with my right. I've been doing it since I was real small.

One time when I was about 3 years old, my dad had to pull over and cut the hair off around my finger because my finger had turned purple. I'm easier on my hair now when twirling, but it's damaging my formerly beautiful hair, and sometimes I don't even realize I am doing it. Any tips to help me stop? I'm 25 now.

By anon937617 — On Mar 05, 2014

This is the same guy as anon937558, post 10. From earlier, I am more worried about my son. When he twists his hair on the crown of his head, it gets knotted up (it's only an inch short, by the way), and he breaks the knot apart. A few weeks ago I guess it got knotted up again, and he took scissors to it, or pulled it out, I am not quite sure. Definitely, any suggestions would be wonderful.

By anon937558 — On Mar 05, 2014

I also have been twirling my hair just about as long as I can remember. My mother says that I would twist hers while she held me. I am 28 now, and it is becoming a major problem. I had a neck muscle spasm about seven years ago (not from twisting), and I still have muscle aches constantly throughout my neck and shoulders, and half way down my back, because at least one of my arms are raised up to my head about 80 percent of the time I am awake.

It also worries me that my five year old son has been doing the exact same thing, in the exact same spot, since he was two years old. I am seriously aching every minute of every day. Does anyone know of any methods to help reduce the urge? Or of any low key products to keep your hands busy? I would appreciate any suggestions.

By anon357475 — On Dec 04, 2013

I do it out of boredom or nervousness.

By anon357473 — On Dec 04, 2013

I twirl all the time, sometimes out of boredom, sometimes out of nervousness. It doesn't bother me and I stop when people are looking are coming around.

By anon330501 — On Apr 16, 2013

I am a severe hair twirler. I've been doing it since I was just starting to grow hair. I even do it when I am sleeping. I'd like to get help for it now.

By anon269156 — On May 16, 2012

I've been doing this since second grade. I am in my mid twenties now. Numerous times I've tried cutting my hair short, wearing a hat, occupying my hands with other nervous habits like smoking, tapping, etc. Nothing works. I may be uncomfortable to be around, but at least I'm burning calories?

By anon171388 — On Apr 30, 2011

I study in a library at university. Lately I've found myself sitting next to an individual who is constantly twirling his hair. Unfortunately for me, my peripheral vision picks up on this constant twirling and it is an annoying distraction. --FernValley.

By Denha — On Feb 24, 2011

I'm not sure in what situation I would find someone else's hair twirling to be on the level of making me anxious about him or her- after all, boys twirl and flip their hair too- though I will admit that it could confuse people who associate it with flirting. I personally have different ways that I play with my hair if I'm either trying to flirt with someone or feeling uncomfortable around him, though it's true some guys do not get the message.

By FernValley — On Feb 23, 2011

I am not sure I would classify hair twirling, foot tapping, or any of these other forms of fidgeting as "annoying". People who are annoyed by these things are typically the minority of people who don't seem to fidget at all. However, fidgeting is how many people pass the time when waiting in lines or in other situations when they have very little to do. It's not a bad thing, and it doesn't always relate to being soothed, either.

In fact, some research shows that people who fidget a lot can actually burn hundreds of calories a day by doing so. If you're trying to lose weight, it might almost make you wish you did have an "annoying" habit.

By anon144533 — On Jan 20, 2011

"Often though, habits such as hair twirling are unconscious." Actually, it happens SUBconsciously, not UNconsciously.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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