“I’m so stressed that I’m tearing my hair out”

A common colloquial phrase known to college students drowning in studies and stressed out adults suffocated by work alike is “I’m so stressed that I’m tearing my hair out” or other related phrases. Why do we associate seemingly unbearable stress with pulling our own hair out? I mean, there are a million different ways to relieve anger or stress, (some popular favorites include screaming into a pillow or even partying the infuriation away), but why is the most popular level of extreme stress expressed by saying you want to pull your own hair out?

Source : http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-zuwmTyb6fuk/Ue-mXZKZP2I/AAAAAAAAAWw/6SQB_5OUE5A/s1600/stressedout_000012685215XSmall_540x405.png

After falling into a deep, dark hole on the internet, I discovered that hair pulling due to anxiety or stress is actually a diagnosed medical disorder. It actually affects a large portion of Americans daily. The disorder is called trichotillomania. The disorder causes people to pull their hair out from their scalp and eyebrows as well as their eyelashes. Over two million people living in the United States are currently coping with this disorder in their daily lives. The trichotillomania disorder most definitely suffers from the file drawer problem. It seems to hold little importance in the medical community despite the large numbers of people affected by the disorder.

Source : https://paradigmmalibu.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/a20ad6f2dafb4278e152e50b01ee1e8f.jpg

Because of the file drawer problem that research revolving trichotillomania faces, the studies done on the disorder usually revolve around what exactly causes it. In a study published by the British Journal of Psychology, an experiment was performed on nineteen healthy subjects and eighteen that were suffering from trichotillomania. The purpose of the study was to see which part of the brain exactly was affected by the disorder and how. The null hypothesis of this study was to assume that trichotillomania had no relation at all to a functioning brain.

With the healthy participants being used as the control group and the patients dealing with trichotillomania being utilized as the experimental group, the study pushed to find imbalances of grey and white matter in different regions of the people’s brains. After a series of tests were done investigating the presence of grey and white matter within the subjects’ brains, it was found that the experimental group had an unproportionately large amount of gray matter distributed in their brains. The grey matter was found to be extremely dense in the frontal lobe and differing parts of the brain that control motor functions, planning, voluntary actions, and coping with differing emotions.

Source : http://cdn.autodidacts.io/img/autodidacts/bb3/brain-white-matter-grey-matter-cross-section.jpg

The presence of this grey matter in these differing parts of the brain of the study group living with trichotillomania disproves the null hypothesis of the study. It is clear from the study that this grey matter present within the patient’s brains clearly triggers their habitual and incessant hair pulling. Conclusions derived from the study affirm that the action of pulling one’s hair out is a body focused repetitive behavior. The people suffering from trichotillomania pulling their hair out is similar to the way that people who deal with OCD must wash their hands constantly. From the parts of the brain that this grey matter affects, its clear that the people who deal with this disorder utilize pulling their hair out to cope with their emotions. Therefore, the disorder is essentially involuntary, and exists as a coping mechanism for the people that suffer from it to deal with their emotions, whether that be stress, anger, anxiety, etc.

So it seems that someone can be stressed enough to pull their own hair out. Whether trichotillomania is the root of the idiom or not, it is clear that the disease, for the amount of people it affects daily, requires more attention in the medical and scientific world.

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5 thoughts on ““I’m so stressed that I’m tearing my hair out”

  1. Michael Robert Szawaluk

    I find this blog completely relevant to me as a student. I will admit I am not the best student when it comes to time management or grades overall, as I am sure Andrew can attest to, and constantly find myself throwing a fit and not being able to complete my work sufficiently. I find myself always being behind on work because I simply put it off to the last minute. Something I wish you touched on in your blog is how stress can affect focus. I know for some people the thought of being behind in school will make them work harder, but for me that just is not the case. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Having said that I am currently looking for ways to deal with my stress and I know that there are many ways to do that. If you want to see how stress can affect your concentration and some tips on how to deal with it check out this cite, I know I will. http://www.ccu.edu/blogs/cags/2012/01/how-stress-affects-adult-students-concentration/

  2. Margaret Eppinger

    This is a pretty unique topic to write about, but I think it’s great that you did. I’ve actually heard of this disorder before, although it seems to be relatively unknown to most people. I definitely think that it’s an issue that requires more attention in science, and I’m sure that would be a relief to its sufferers. I think it’s good you point out the fact that it impacts the same part of the brain because I’ve actually heard theories that trichotillomania falls somewhere on the OCD spectrum; other scientists believe that the two are just closely related. I’m inclined more to believe that obsessive hair pulling shares many of the same traits as the obsession/compulsion cycle of OCD, so I see it as more of subtype of OCD. I think that this issue definitely deserves more attention, just as there needs to be more attention paid to OCD in general. It’s one of the most complex mental illnesses in our world for sure. I found a paper that discusses some of the similarities and differences between the two conditions if you want to read more into it: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC546013/

    1. Olivia Helen DeArment

      This is an interesting topic to bring up considering most people have a certain tendency or quirk when they are displaying nerves or stress. In some cases, mostly more intense ones, I can see where the issue of OCD would arise, however, if it is minor and happens only in times of high stress modes, then it could just be a coping or habit correlated with ones level of stress. For example, when I am stressed or working on something I crack my knuckles, without even realizing I am doing it. But when I am in over my head, high levels of stress I chew all my nails off in a frantic, sometimes not even realizing I am doing it. Here is a website I found interesting comparing a lot of nervous quirks. Maybe you all can find one that is unique to you. http://www.depressionforums.org/forums/topic/16332-what-are-some-of-your-anxious-habitsquirks/

      1. Hannah Katherine Morrissey Post author

        The topic of nervous habits is very intriguing and relatable I’m sure for numerous college students. I’ve always wondered what effect these nervous habits may have on our health, considering that they are so repetitive. I myself went through an incredibly long phase of biting my nails and always was afraid that it could permanently damage my nails for the rest of my life. Even though they are thankfully much longer now and I’ve kicked the habit, they are still incredibly weak and fragile. I found an article from Health.com that reports some of the unhealthy effects of common bad habits, I’ve posted the link below.

    2. Hannah Katherine Morrissey Post author

      The link you posted with this comment was a very interesting read. One of the most shocking things I read from this study was that both disorders worsen during menstruation. I found another study from The National Center for Biotechnology Information website that reported a survey study on OCD symptoms during menstruation, the study showed for many of the survey subjects that during a woman’s menstruation period OCD symptoms do in fact get worse whereas during pregnancy, OCD symptoms are alleviated. I’ve attached the article below.

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