‘I pull my hair out.’ An interview about Trichotillomania

Lady playing with hair I recently listened to Rebecca Brown give an account of her experience living with Trichotillomania. Trichotillomania is the name given to describe an overwhelming urge in a person to pull their own hair out. This can range from a desire to pull the hair on their head, to eyelashes, eyebrows and other types of body hair.

During the interview Rebecca speaks of feeling the urge to pull her hair out whenever she felt stressed or upset. This behaviour began at a young age and escalated to her pulling large clumps of hair out in her teenage years, resulting in patches of baldness on her head. Chartered Psychologist Jane McCartney explained how pulling strands of hair out releases endorphins into the body, the sensation of which can feel very satisfying for the person with this condition.
Lady with bald patch from TrichotillomaniaSo what triggers Trichotillomania? Trichotillomania is largely recognised as an anxiety related condition. The release of endorphins brought about by pulling strands of hair out can momentarily relieve a person from feelings of stress and anxiety. At the same time however, developing a condition such as Trichotillomania can often fuel and increase feelings of anxiety and associated feelings of shame and guilt as the person recognises the effects of hair pulling on their appearance but still finds it difficult to stop. The person can feel trapped and isolated in a vicious circle.

Anxiety is a feeling that is likely to have been experienced by all of us at one time or another. Most of us can identify with feeling nervous and anxious before an exam or driving test, or even before a rollercoaster ride at a theme park. The degree and severity of anxiety experienced by a person is the difference between what can feel reasonable for the situation compared to an overwhelming sense of anxiety which can feel all consuming and debilitating; a barrier to getting on with our everyday lives. It is this type of anxiety that can lead a person to seek professional help and support in the form of psychotherapy and counselling, and therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Dealing with anxiety is often not about trying to get rid of the feelings of anxiety all together but learning how to manage anxiety so that is doesn’t become life altering and debilitating. Of course with any form of counselling or therapeutic support there will be some exploration of what is triggering the anxiety. In my experience, through discussing the thinking behind the anxiety and challenging problematic thought patterns, many people comment on feeling less anxious as they develop alternative ways of thinking.

Managing anxiety can incorporate finding alternative ways of behaving; replacing unhelpful activities one might do when they feel anxious as an attempt to relieve the feeling, with something that will prove helpful in relieving the anxiety but that won’t be harmful to the person. An example would be helping a person to find an alternative activity to cutting themselves when they feel anxious.

For Rebecca Brown, she finds that having a ‘tangle toy’ provides her with a distraction to pulling her hair.  Jane McCartney comments on the benefits of having something like a tangle toy as being that it occupies the hands meaning that the hands aren’t needing to be occupied by pulling hair. Hand with tangle toy As an adult, Rebecca also has items of jewellery with similar properties to that of a tangle toy.  One of the benefits is that such items look discreet and age appropriate.

Finding alternative activities that will help to release endorphins into the body is a helpful alternative to an activity that involves harming oneself. Activities such as exercise, particularly more vigorous forms of exercise such as punching a punch bag or kickboxing, all release endorphins into the body and can help to relieve symptoms of anxiety such as stress and muscle tension.

To listen to Rebecca’s interview go to:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciEo8zC6B6A

To follow Rebecca’s in-depth journey with Trichotillomania then take a look at her TrichJournal at:
http://trichjournal.tumblr.com/

Beckie looking in mirror, in the mirror she appears to have full head of hair

Further information about Trichotillomania can be found at:

http://cognitive-behavior-therapy.com/trichotillomania/

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/trichotillomania/Pages/Introduction.aspx

http://www.trich.org/treatment/resources-articles.html#success

Mind and Soul provides further information about mental health including details about self harming behaviour. For details go to:

http://www.mindandsoul.info/Articles/279837/Mind_and_Soul/Resources/Articles/Self_Harm_Roots.aspx

Jayne Life

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