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We Asked a Therapist Why You Have Such a Strong Desire to Cut Your Hair During a Mental Breakdown

My first instinct when things go horribly awry is to reach for the scissors and chop off my hair. No matter what causes my emotional distress, my response is always the time: Cut. Your. Hair. In the past four months, I’ve gone through a breakup, started a new job, and moved—a cocktail of stressors. So, as you could guess, the urge to revamp my strands has been incredibly strong. I’ve avoided scratching that itch (thankfully), though I was curious why we have that strong desire to cut our hair during mental breakdowns and emotional times in our lives. It seems to be a common impulse for many of us so there has to be a reason we all feel this way during stressful moments. There is, and Houston-based licensed professional counselor Liz Hughes told us all about it. Read on to learn all about the psychology of changing your hair during emotional breakdowns below!

Black and white photo of a woman cutting her hair during an emotional breakdown
(via Unsplash)

So, Why Do We Cut Our Hair During Mental Breakdowns?

The answer likely won’t surprise you, as it has a lot to do with our need to feel in control. “Some respond to stress by grasping for things they can control since life feels so out of control: Cue the new haircut and color,” Liz shares. There’s also a bit more to it.

“We sometimes convince ourselves that things will be different now that we have this new look,” Liz explains. “This can help us begin the process of starting over. However, human change is more complex than a few hours at the salon. Sometimes the illusion that everything will be different because of our new hairdo gets shattered when we realize we can’t change our personality or habits as easily as we can change our hair.”

Why Changing Our Hair of All Things?

Depending on what caused the mental breakdown, there are a number of reasons why we want to change our hair. Liz notes that after a breakup, “some people come out of relationships feeling very restricted and experience a lost sense of self, so making a drastic hair change can feel like they are reclaiming their personality.” We’re also able to let go of the people we once were by doing this. It helps us embrace another side of ourselves during trying times.

Cutting our hair is also an easy way to achieve instant gratification. When everything feels like it’s falling apart, we can have some control over our new look. And it acts as a sort of release. “We know it will grow back or we can dye it again in a few weeks,” Liz says about why we choose to change our hair. “Yet, it still provides that instant gratification for change that we are craving at that moment, with the ability to undo it if it’s the worst thing ever. The reward system in our brain provides us with dopamine when we achieve this quick fix, which leads to us temporarily feeling really good.”

Are There Any Benefits to Making a Drastic Hair Change During Times of Distress?

Cutting your hair isn’t the best coping mechanism, but Liz shares it’s not all that bad. “I think changing hair in response to a breakup can be a healthy distraction. I believe any change in small doses can be a positive thing and helps us play a little and switch up our mundane day-to-day look.”

Still, she doesn’t recommend it being your only strategy to deal with stress as it can cause us to avoid our emotions surrounding the situation. “If you’re really craving a new ‘do, I say go for the change, but make sure to revisit the emotions or reasons for wanting to dye your hair in the first place.”

How Should We Deal the Urge to Cut Our Hair?

Liz doesn’t completely advise against cutting your hair, though she urges you to give yourself some time to think it over. “There are very few life decisions that need to be made in 24 hours,” she notes. “Give yourself a few weeks to think about the long-term cost of changing your hair. If you’re still 100% committed after a few weeks I would say, go for it.”

Struggling with depression? Liz shares how to maintain your haircare routine HERE!

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