Trichotillomania is a recurrent, chronic compulsion to pull hair. It usually starts in early adolescence and can last a lifetime. The behavior causes significant distress physically and emotionally often causing people to withdraw socially for fear of judgment. There is no cure for this disorder, but it can be successfully managed. Therapy by a qualified body-focused repetitive behavior practitioner would be the ideal method to deal with trichotillomania. This article highlights ten things you can do to deal with it.
1. Identify pulling behavior trends.
Increasing awareness is the first step in effective treatment. Identification of pulling behaviors includes tracking patterns. One way to do this is to keep a hair pulling journal that records the following for each hair pulling episode:
- Time of day pulling episode occurs.
- Location pulling occurs.
- How long does it last?
- How do you feel when you start?
- What causes you to stop?
- How do you feel when you’re done?
Keep track for a week or more and then review to look for patterns.
2. Identify triggers.
A trigger is an internal or external cue that occurs right before pulling. Internal cues include emotional states, thoughts, physiological sensations. External cues are people, places, or situations. Often there will be a pattern not only in pulling behavior trends but also in the triggers. Some triggers will be readily identified; others will be more elusive. Anxiety and stress, for example, are known triggers for people who struggle with hair pulling. Experienced differently by everyone, some people pull hair to calm anxiety and stress then feel relief after. Others pull hair to distract from anxiety and stress. Still, others are triggered by imperfections and feel compelled to deal with imperfections but are never satisfied with the results.
You don’t need to know the cause of pulling behavior to change it. Approach trigger identification without judgment. Think of these exercises as scientific inquiry into yourself. The goal is to identify the triggers so you can retrain yourself to respond to them more healthily.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Being mindful is a mental state of focused awareness to the present and acknowledgment of thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment. The result is improved self-awareness and reduced self-recrimination.The internet is full of information on how to learn and practice mindfulness.
4. Identify and dispute negative thoughts and feelings.
Practicing nonjudgmental awareness with mindfulness trains you to recognize thoughts and feelings, especially the negative automatic ones that either precede or follow hair pulling behaviors. After negative thoughts are identified, they can be addressed. While it is best to work through issues with a therapist, you can learn to dispute negative thoughts and feelings by writing them down and consciously refuting or reframing them. For example, if you feel helpless over hair pulling behaviors, write down how you feel and then reframe to: “I can learn to manage hair pulling behaviors.”
5. Separate from the behavior.
Trichotillomania does not define you. It is a compulsive behavior, but you are defined by other things. Behaviors occur, but they are separate from you. Take time to write a description of yourself that does not include trichotillomania. What character traits do you possess? What hobbies do you enjoy? How do the people who love you describe you? Keep this list handy for when you need a reminder.
6. Create competing responses.
In Habit Reversal Training (HRT), people learn to proactively engage in behavior that makes pulling hair difficult or impossible to do. Those who use their hands, for example, can create ways to keep their hands doing something else. Some examples include clenching fists and holding them tight when urges arise, sitting on the hands, engaging the hands with fidget or stress devices, or wearing gloves.
7. Create stimulus controls.
Another HRT technique is manipulating the environment to make it impossible to pull hair. For example, someone who pulls hair may do so in a location at home that triggers it. Or maybe hair pulling only occurs when the person is alone. In these cases, the person should avoid being alone at home or could change the trigger location at home in a way that makes pulling difficult or impossible.
8. Use tools to interrupt habits.
Pulling hair involves the hands, so what if you could alert yourself when your hands are in position? Technology developed by HabitAware is an example of a wearable device that you can train to alert you when your hands are moving towards your hair.
9. Connect with others.
Join support groups either online or in person to learn from others, receive encouragement from others, and boost your confidence by helping others.
10. Celebrate victories.
Whether they are small or large, reward yourself for accomplishments. Your first celebration could be finishing this article and committing to recovery!
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
Author Bio: Trudi Griffin is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and is part of the trichstop.com team
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc.
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