I recently received an email that I myself could have written in the past. It was from a young woman who suspected that she was suffering from chronic telogen effluvium (or CTE) as she had experienced drastic and worrisome shedding for the past several months. Lately, she had taken to counting her hairs. She was doing this because she wanted to know exactly what she was dealing with. She also wanted to be able to see any trends or improvements (in the hopes of linking the treatments she was trying with positive or negative changes in her shedding).
And, while this all sounded fine in theory, it was very problematic in real life. She told me, in part: “Counting hairs seems to have almost become an obsession with me. I worry that I’m going to miss some so I find now that I constantly run my fingers through my hair to see how many will come out. Most of the time, at least a few strands come out. And this is true no many how many times I do this. Of course, I get very happy if I don’t get any hairs. But this isn’t usually the case. I know that this is silly and is only making me more upset which just makes things worse. But I can’t seem to stop it because I always feel as though I always need to check and see how bad it really is.”
For people who have never gone through or had CTE or severe shedding, the sentiments in that email might seem extremely silly and illogical. But, for people who have ever shed for long periods of time and know the frustration of not knowing when or if it is going to end, this scenario may not seem all that outlandish to you. The truth is, many people in this situation count hairs. And of those that don’t, many will at least eye ball what’s in the drain or on their clothing to track the current status of their hair loss. Everyone wants to see (and is often looking for) improvements.
So all of this is very understandable, but I have to tell you, from my experience, hair counting or constantly running your fingers through your hair is really a path that you don’t want to travel. Yes, this can become a habit and no it will almost never make you feel better. And most people know that it’s very destructive when they are doing it, but they can’t seem to stop because their worry and panic about the hair loss is feeding the need to always “check in” to see if things are getting better or are getting worse.
My best advice here is to do whatever you need to stop to stop both the habit of running your fingers through your hair and counting those that come out. When you’ve been having hair loss for a while, you’ll usually know pretty quickly whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. You really shouldn’t need to count or to continue checking.
Some people are able to stop cold turkey through sheer will power, but this was not my reality. It was a gradual process for me. At the worst of times, I had to make little deals with myself that I would wait say two hours before I checked again. The next time, it would be four hours and so on. The less I ran my fingers through my hair or counted strands, the better I felt and I eventually came to realize that the whole thing was ridiculous. Not only that, but the longer I went without doing it, the better I felt. So, I eventually stopped and, psychologically, it helped.
I completely understand that drastic hair loss can have a psychological hold and can cause you to do things that you know are silly. Still, if you know in your heart that these things aren’t doing you any good, then it’s often in your best interest to stop and sometimes it helps it to “stick” if you do it gradually.