Coiling or twirling or wrapping a strand of your hair around your fingers is quite a common habit that is seen in many. Actually this habit of twirling your hair belongs to a category of behaviors termed as “fidgets.”(1) Children often indulge in twirling their hair as a means for dealing with boredom; when they are nervous or anxious; or simply before bedtime to wind down. Twirling your hair also leads to hair damage, split ends, knots and hair breakage.
For many people this habit of twirling the hair is out of nervousness; however, it can also be an indication of some underlying medical issue.
How And Why Does The Habit Of Hair Twirling Start?
Hair twirling can start as a childhood distraction or nervous habit, but can escalate to a body-focused repetitive behavior. It is also thought that hair twirling can result in trichotillomania, which is a mental health issue where the person has an overwhelming desire to pull at their hair.(2)
What are the Side Effects of Hair Twirling?
Some of the common side effects of hair twirling are obviously to do with hair and include:
- Knotted, messy and tangled hair.
- Weak hair strands and hair breakage.
- Split ends.
- Hair loss and bald patches.
What Hair Twirling Indicates in Toddlers & Older Children?
Children, who twirl their hair, do so as a coping mechanism for fatigue/stress during their toddler years. As children find it extremely difficult to control their surroundings or express emotions, in some cases their body takes over and develops a coping mechanism which is physical in nature that is hair twirling.
What Does Hair Twirling Indicate in Adults?
Commonly hair twirling habit in an adult is carried from childhood. Hair twirling habit in an adult could also indicate some other medical problem. The habit of twirling your hair can be an indication of the following:
Symptom of Anxiety(2)
Twirling your hair as a child or adolescence can have grown into something that you do when you are anxious or nervous. If you find yourself twirling your hair when feeling anxious or nervous, then it can indicate that you are dealing with anxious or intrusive thoughts and this habit can easily be a symptom of an underlying anxiety problem.
Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior(2)
Many a times, hair twirling habit starts in childhood and never does stop. According to studies, there is an association between this habit of twirling your hair and boredom, impatience, dissatisfaction and frustration.(3,5) Twirling your hair can also help alleviate your boredom or help in winding down when tired.
Indication of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (2)
Twirling you hair can also be an indication of OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you are suffering from other OCD symptoms, then it means that this habit of hair twirling is also a part of your condition. Common symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder consist of: Repetitive acts, upsetting impulses/thoughts occurring repeatedly; symptoms interfering with daily life and lasting for hours for each day.(4)
However, hair twirling on its own does not indicate OCD; only and only if it is accompanied by the above mentioned symptoms, then you should suspect OCD.
Does Hair Twirling Indicate Autism?
Hair twirling is a type of self-stimulation or stimming. Some of the examples of stimming are: drumming your fingers; nail biting and jiggling your foot. It is not necessary that stimming be related with autism; however, there are certain stimming behaviors that can be linked with autism. Some of the repetitive behaviors that are an indication of autism are: flapping hands, rocking, twirling, jumping, bouncing, snapping fingers, walking or pacing on tiptoes.(7,8)
If autism has been diagnosed in a child, then hair twirling needs to be addressed, as it can become a very destructive habit.
However, hair twirling on its own is not an indication of autism; only and only if it is accompanied by other symptoms of autism, then only you should get your child evaluated.
How to Curb the Habit of Hair Twirling in Children(6)
Some effective methods to put an end to the hair twirling habit in your child are:
- Short Hairstyle: If the habit of hair twirling has damaged the child’s hair, then a short haircut can easily solve this problem. When the child does not have the length of hair to twirl, then it can be difficult for a couple of days for your child; however, this habit can easily and hopefully abate by the time the hair grows back.
- Wearing Mittens at Bedtime: If your child twirls its hair as a method of self-soothing before sleeping, then putting mittens before bedtime helps them to tame this habit of twirling their hair.
- Fidget Devices: This is a great device to provide the relief and distraction that your child wants and that too without damaging their hair. Devices made of false hair can also be used where your child can twirl it as a way of relaxation.
The Treatment for Hair Twirling
Treatment for hair twirling depends on the underlying cause and why a person does it. Some of the methods to address the habit of twirling your hair as an adult are:
- Whenever you feel like twirling your hair, try brushing your hair instead.
- Keep your hands busy by doing something constructive, such as crocheting, knitting or gardening.
- In order to curb the urge to twirl your hair, try to take good care of your hair.
- Learning techniques, such as meditation or mindfulness to alleviate stress, also helps in treating the habit of hair twirling.
- Reduce your sugar and caffeine intake, as they make you jittery and nervous, which can trigger hair twirling.
- Try sleeping wearing a baseball cap, hoodie or a beanie to prevent hair twirling while you sleep.
- Try to control your hair twirling for small amounts of time, such as if you have not twirled or coiled your hair for a couple of hours, then reward yourself for this achievement.
- Consult a psychologist if nothing works.
- Taking a prescribed anti-anxiety medication can also help treat the habit of hair twirling.
When to Seek Medical Consult
If you see that the habit of twirling your hair is having a negative impact on you or your child, then it is time to seek medical consult. If there is hair loss as a result of hair twirling, then seek help. You may be referred to a mental health professional if needed.
There are different reasons where people feel the urge to wrap their hair around their finger and twirl it. In some cases, the hair twirling habit starts in childhood and carries into adulthood. Whereas, hair twirling can also be an indication of something wrong with your health. When you consult a professional, they will give you different treatment options to control or get rid of this habit of hair twirling.