What is Trichotillomania (TTM)?
Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder in which individuals fail to resist urges to pull out their own hair. In simpler terms, trichotillomania is a disorder that involves an irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows and other areas of ones body, despite trying to stop. What are some ways to manage this disorder?
The term trichotillomania might be new to some of you. That is okay. I only discovered the word few years ago while watching a youtuber. She described a habit she had; one she was very ashamed of and she called it trichotillomania (TTM). Her story sounded very similar to mine. The only difference being that she pulled out hair from her scalp and I was more focused on my face. Either way, I was very thrilled to know that this habit I had, had a name. I was even more happy to know that I was not the only one who experienced it. I read the comments underneath the video and more and more people expressed relief to know that they were not alone.
Fast-forward few years later, I attended a psychiatry lecture and there it was again “Trichotillomania”. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) lists TTM in the category of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. I remember turning to my colleague and saying “I have that disorder”. And he did not believe it. But just like many other mental health disorders, symptoms may not be readily visible for you to see. And unless told or in late stages, family and friends may never know.
Many people mistake Trichotillomania for an anxiety disorder but it is important to know that the behavior may occur in stressful or relaxed situations. And interestingly, individuals are able to stop themselves from pulling on their hair in social situations to prevent awkward stares or stigmatization. With this knowledge in mind, it is safe to say that we can manage TTM in our homes as well. We can suppress the urge to pull out hairs if we try.
Ways to manage TRICHOTILLOMANIA
Awareness training: Monitor when you pull your hair.
- Are there certain triggers that influence your behavior?
- Do you pull more when you are upset or confused?
- Are there certain hair types that you are most likely to pull out? Perhaps gray hairs or thicker hairs or curly? Take note of these.
Stimulus control: These are active practices to deliberately stop yourself from pulling hair out. These may include:
- Cutting your nails short so you can not grab the hair effectively
- Personally, I apply some vaseline to my eyebrows. This causes the hairs to be slippery and more difficult to hold on to. Additionally, knowing that I have a tendency to pull out hair that is straying or hair that not laying nicely, vaseline makes my eyebrows more silky and I can use a mascara brush to make it lie perfectly.
- I also fill in my brows with an eye pencil or have a full face of make up. I dislike getting my hands dirty so filling in my brows means I will not be touching them till I take off my make up; which is usually late at night.
- This may come as a surprise but wearing gloves is an effective method to stop pulling. If you know that stressful situations such as studying triggers your TTM, grab a pair of gloves and make up your mind not to take them off till you are done studying. Similarly if you pull hair from your head, you can wear a hat to cover it up.
Competing Response Training: This involves engaging in a behavior that is physically incompatible with pulling for a brief period of time until the urge subsides. These may include:
- Destressing methods such as meditation or taking a walk. You may also take a break from whatever activity you may be doing. It is better to perform active practices as you are more likely to pull when in a sedentary or relaxed state.
- Meet up with a friend. You are most likely not to entertain the urge when with someone else. And even better, you will not be thinking of hairs when having a great time.
These are just my thoughts and practices that have worked out for me backed up with some scientific research. However, if you notice that the compulsion is getting way out of your control, do not hesitate to consult your nearest healthcare professional. Remember that it is okay to talk about mental health issues and you are not alone.