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Reviewed by: Andrew Flynn PG Dip. L.M.H.C. MBACP. PCA.
Read on to understand what causes compulsive touching and scalp picking and ways you can help reduce it.
Compulsive touching is one of the lesser-known groups of symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Compulsive hair touching may be a ritual to help reduce stress or anxiety usually brought about by obsessive thoughts. OCD is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.1https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-when-unwanted-thoughts-take-over, National Institute of Mental Health For others, these rituals are driven by distinct urges, described often as tension or pressure throughout their entire body that they cannot control or alleviate.
When we think of OCD, we often think of handwashing, flicking light switches on and off, and obsessive cleaning rituals. This is most commonly how the media has portrayed OCD. For sufferers, it can make its presence known in many different ways. One of the lesser-known groups of symptoms includes ritualised hair touching, twirling, pulling, and picking at split ends.2https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/trichotillomania/symptoms-causes/syc-20355188, Mayo Clinic
Excessive hair touching can harm the ends of your hair. When we say excessive hair touching, we’re not talking about the harmless hair feeling such as swishing, lightly stroking, and flicking your hair. However, excessive touching including twirling or rubbing the hair can lead to hair loss. Especially with dirty or oily hands can transfer grime onto your hair and scalp. Twirling tangles hair which is usually difficult to detangle. Twisting your hair roughly worsens the situation because the hair can snap and fall out.
Another way hair touching damages your hair is through picking at split ends and physically pulling out strands of hair. This can lead to permanent damage to the follicle; and the trauma can cause it to stop producing new hair. Some sufferers have reported an obsession with counting the strands of hair that come out when they brush or wash their hair. Others experienced an urge to count the number of hairs in a certain patch where they may be experiencing hair loss.
So, what can you do if you feel that compulsive touching, picking, and pulling at your hair is taking over? There are several incredible support groups available. The positive news is that once OCD is diagnosed by a professional you can seek treatment and support. Most patients respond well to CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy),3Kathleen Davis, FNP, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/296579, Medical News Today and some of the most effective treatments include Habit Reversal and Stimulus Control.
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Getting diagnosed can help you access the therapy needed to manage your OCD. You might also want to tell people you trust about your condition as they can provide the support you need to surmount your compulsive touching. Confide in a friend or family member you can trust. Speak to a licenced therapist or councillor who will be able to help you identify the cause of your OCD and recommend suitable treatments.4Rebecca Joy Stanborough, MFA, https://www.healthline.com/health/therapy-for-ocd, Healthline
Knowing the cause of a problem is usually the half-way to solving it. You need to become aware of the condition and track it. You can use a diary to note every day you find yourself touching your hair as well as possible triggers that promoted the compulsion to play with your hair. By doing this, it becomes easy to design a plan with a therapist that will help you reduce and eventually stop touching your hair excessively. Remember to reward your progress when you don’t touch your hair for long periods. Remember to start with little goals and challenges and increase the momentum as you see visible changes.
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Completely covering your head is an excellent reminder that you shouldn’t be playing with your hair. Each time you touch the silk scarf, head bonnet or any other head cover, it will remind you that you are trying to make a positive change. More so, think about the benefits that silk head covers give. For example, they promote hair growth by conserving hair moisture and protect your scalp and strands from friction from your pillowcase, which will help with regrowth. Bearing this in mind can further convince not to take the head cover off your hair for times when the urge seems insurmountable. If you find you subconsciously pull your hair out in your sleep, wearing a silk headwrap will certainly help with this.
Finding ways to keep both hands busy also helps. Distractions such as playing instruments, writing, knitting and any other activity or hobby you find interesting, can help take your mind off your hair and onto even more productive things. All treatments can take time and patience, but the good news is that your hair can grow back. If it’s been going on for a long time, less will do so, or your hair may grow back a different texture – but you will see an improvement.