Skin- picking and hair pulling: some lesser known symptoms of anxiety
Skin-picking, hair-pulling and other body-focused, repetitive behaviors can all be
anxiety-related. They’re far more common than many of us realise, but we often feel shame
associated with these behaviors, so we don’t talk about them. Because we all find it so
difficult to talk about, it can feel like we’re the only person in the world going through it,
intensifying our shame and sense of isolation.
They can affect our whole life
When we live with these behaviours, we often feel embarrassed, alone, and ashamed. We don’t want
anyone to know what we’re doing. Although 1.4% of the population skin-pick, 75% of whom are
women, and around 2% of the population hair-pull, we might not know of anyone else who engages
in these behaviours.
Feeling like we’re the only person in the world who does these behaviours can intensify our
shame, embarrassment, frustration, and the fear that someone will ‘find us out’. It can make us
feel like an outcast. We can become socially isolated.
It can affect all areas of our life. We avoid relationships in case someone sees marks on our
skin. Our work is affected as we struggle to concentrate; our mind occupied with trying not to
do these behaviours. We might start to find leaving the house difficult for fear that the
anxiety caused by going out will make our behaviours worse. It can become all-consuming.
What is skin-picking?
When we struggle with skin-picking, we find it difficult to stop picking our skin, either with
our fingers, with things we’re fiddling with, or both. It can include picking existing moles,
freckles and spots, or creating new cuts, bruises, burns, and bleeding, and is often repetitive.
We might pick our hands, feet, fingers, arms, legs, scalp, or elsewhere.
Although it can be part of an existing diagnosis, it can also be diagnosed in its own right as
dermatillomania or excoriation.
It can be incredibly sore and unfortunately can sometimes result in infection. At times, we might
need antibiotics. Picking our scalp can make hair washing painful. Picking at our hands and
fingers can make it painful to use our hands, which can affect all sorts from writing to washing
What is hair-pulling?
Hair-pulling involves pulling hair from our eyebrows, eyelashes, head, or elsewhere. Sometimes we
do it with our fingers, sometimes we might use things to help us. Some of us also eat the hair
that we’ve removed.
As with skin-picking, it can be part of another condition, but it can also be diagnosed as a
condition in its own right, in this instance as trichotillomania.
Hair-pulling can make the area where we’ve removed the hair really sore. It can cause ingrown
hairs, and in some cases, alopecia. Sometimes, it can also cause infections which can have a
longer-term effect on hair growth.
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