How Hair Pulling (Trichotillomania) Led to A Push

By Ellen Crupi, HabitAware Director of Awareness

My first hair pulling experience….how trichotillomania found me

When I was about 11, I began pulling out my hair one strand at a time. I still remember the day it started. I was bored in gym class, waiting for the activity to start. One hair felt thicker, coarser, different. And so, I pulled that single hair right out of my head and ZING, I was hooked.  

That was over 40 years ago. WOW.

For four decades I pulled. Even though I wanted to stop hair pulling, I found stopping was impossible. In high school, when the bell rang between classes I would look down at the floor and see dozens of strands of my own hair.  In college a “friend” called me out after noticing my pulling and said I was disgusting, while another commented on my thinning hair and forming bald spots. Sigh.

Those moments are paralyzing. Literally - as in I just didn't know how to respond when people took notice of my hair pulling habit. And also figuratively, as I felt like I'd be stuck in that mode of inadequacy forever.

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But I'm living proof life goes on. Fast forward three decades & I’m married with two amazing daughters. I was terrified they would inherit this dreadful disorder.

Whether that happens or not, I am in awe of their ambition and focus. While my younger self didn't know how to cope with trichotillomania, I know they are equipped with the skills to do so and I am now equipped to support and help them take control.

My Push to Awareness

In May 2017 something incredible happened. After a 3 hour, non-stop hair pulling session, I googled "breakthroughs in Trichotillomania" and up popped Keen by HabitAware.  

"Keen is a smart bracelet that helps you take control of hair pulling, skin picking & nail biting," said the search results. I dug in and learned that Keen was created by a fellow trichster who grew up with the same thing as me. So I decided to give it a chance.

And Keen changed my life...Twice!

"The hair I'm holding is growth since using Keen." - Ellen

"The hair I'm holding is growth since using Keen." - Ellen

Here’s how:  I trained Keen with the HabitAware app for my specific hair pulling behavior...I typically begin with my left hand focusing on the hair behind my left ear.  Armed with Keen, as my hand moves into position to pull, Keen senses and gently vibrates making me aware.  

The vibration It's like a little "hug" on my wrist, privately whispering to just me. "Hey Ellen, watch out, you don’t have to pull, hands down." I immediately began associating the gentle vibration with "hands down."  

I went from pulling every day to to hardly at all. My confidence soared! I was in control!  I sit here nine months into wearing Keen and about 95% pull free.  

And then my life changed AGAIN!  

I contacted Aneela, the co-creator and trichster behind Keen and her husband Sameer. I saw what Keen had done for me in helping build my awareness and I saw the potential it had. I wanted to work with them because I wanted to help others the way they helped me. 

Since the summer, I've been able to do just that, taking my experience in sales, marketing and large scale event management to help raise awareness of Keen habit tracker and body focused repetitive behaviors. 

Everyday, I wake up thrilled to go to work and help others find their awareness. What’s important to me now is how I feel. I'm no longer hiding behind shame with trails of hair following me like breadcrumbs. I still make mistakes & I still have the occasional set back. But the difference now is I have tools, I have success and I have my Keen team & my Keen family cheering me on.  

I’m looking forward to being back regularly on the HabitAware blog to share tips on using Keen, along with some super cool life hacks that just make things brighter.  

You can always reach me at ellen@habitaware.com.  Would love to hear your story too.  

Ellen & students at a local school, working together to bring awareness to body focused repetitive behaviors.

Ellen & students at a local school, working together to bring awareness to body focused repetitive behaviors.


About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates:


3 Tips to Stop Skin Picking (or Stop Hair Pulling) from the Stop Skin Picking Coach

By Annette Pasternak, Stop Skin Picking Coach

Aneela asked me to share my best videos on tips for BFRB (body focused repetitive behavior) reduction and recovery and, upon considering, I found it pretty easy to narrow it down to these three. My sincere wish is that they inform and inspire you to positive action and abundant health and happiness.

1. Stop Skin Picking Coach: 3 Low-Tech Products That Really Work

I love technology tools, and I frequently recommend Keen to my coaching clients, who benefit greatly from it. But low-tech solutions can be game-changers too. This video, in which I share inexpensive products that can make a big difference if you struggle with skin picking, has the most “thumbs ups” of all the videos on my YouTube channel. If you pull your hair, rather than pick, you’ll still find at least one tip here that works for you.

 
 

2. Skin Picking and Sugar: Real Life Examples

People with BFRBs have super-sensitive nervous systems, and processed sugar, which is unhealthy for everybody, can be especially destabilizing and behavior-inducing for us. In this video, which has the most views of all my videos, I show you examples from three of my clients who were keeping track of their picking. We see how dramatically sugar was affecting picking and how upon removal of processed sugar, skin picking went effectively to zero. I would expect to see the same with hair pulling, and if you’re suffering with any BFRB, I recommend you give sugar-elimination a try.

3. Belief in BFRB Recovery - Skin Picking, Hair Pulling, and others

The last video I share could very likely be the most important. It’s about believing in yourself and your recovery. It can be a big challenge to believe in yourself and your ability to recover from BFRBs, because you have probably tried to stop so many times and for so long. But without belief, we don’t have the emotional resources to persist at the long-term work that’s required. In this video I describe effective ways to increase your belief in yourself.

 
 

Remember, big changes happen over time with knowledge, practice and persistence. I’m so happy to have had the chance to “speak" with you today and introduce you to information that I hope you’ve enjoyed and found beneficial.

Xo,

Annette

4. OUR FAVE! A BONUS: Dermatillomania and Technology: 3 Techie Tools to Help You Stop Picking

As an added bonus, check out this video clip with Annette's fab client AND Keen Family member, Genevieve. She has been using three specific tools to help her win against skin picking. One of those tools is Keen. Genevieve shares how Keen has helped her retrain her brain, build her awareness muscles and given her confidence to take control and stop skin picking. Check out Genevieve’s tools - hopefully you will be able to gain a tool of your own! 

 
 

About Annette Pasternak, Ph.D.

Annette Pasternak, Ph.D., also known as the “Stop Skin Picking Coach,” is the author of Skin Picking: The Freedom to Finally Stop and the Freedom Companions for Stopping Skin Picking and Hair Pulling  She is a certified holistic health coach living in Los Angeles and coaching clients worldwide to stop skin picking. Formerly a research scientist, college professor and high school chemistry teacher who struggled for more than two decades with chronic skin picking, Annette is dedicated to helping others break free from its tenacious grip. Learn more about Annette and her work at her website stopskinpickingcoach.com.


About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates:


How to Build & Maintain Your Happiness Muscles

In our first step to a “New Year, Improved You,” we talked about letting go of the need to be perfect so that we could make room in our lives to do the hard work to continuously improve. 

In our second step to a "New Year, Improved You," Ellen Crupi, our Director of Keen Awareness, shared tips on how we can change our mindsets to allow for self-support of our personal development. It's about believing in ourselves, so that whatever it is we think we can't do, we just can't do, YET.

What's after embracing imperfection and a growth mindset? GETTING HAPPY.

Did you just read that & think, "But how can I get happy, I have trichotillomania / dermatillomania & it's ruining my life!?"

Though often considered a soothing mechanism, hair pulling and skin picking aren’t exactly the most happy, smile-inducing activities. But can you get happy despite them?

Yes. Yes you can.

Studies show that happy people far outperform unhappy or neutral people. Studies also show that you can learn to be happy despite your circumstance.

I think that's worth repeating: Just like you can learn to read, or do math, or the intricacies of Excel spreadsheets, YOU CAN LEARN TO BE HAPPY. 

It just takes a desire and practice.

What are you practicing? Wise words of wisdom from a child!

Studying Happiness

Consider this: In an experiment, 44 doctors were each given a fake patient file and asked to solve for the patient’s medical condition, using the clues inside the file. As an added challenge, the file included an error in diagnosis.

Half the doctors were given medical journals to study before reviewing the file.

The other half were given a bag of candy to enjoy after they completed their assessment.

The result?

“The doctors who were primed to be happy” (by way of a sweet reward)... “came to the correct diagnosis twice as face as those who are thinking in the medical node,” shares Shawn Achor, ex-Harvard researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage.

The conclusion?

Happy people outperform those who are neutral or miserable.

How to Practice Building Your Happiness Muscles

Based on the experiment, it appears that happy people do better. 

How can you become happy? That cute little kid in the video above, said it best...with PRACTICE. Yep, by doing one quick exercise a day, you can build your “happiness muscles.” I know it's true because I'm doing it too!

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Note: The Life Satisfaction Scale used for this test is a widely accepted scientific metric to predict productivity and happiness at work.

Here are 7 exercises to practice, one for each day of the week, to help you build and maintain your happiness muscles:

  1. MEANINGFUL-MONDAY: Jot down your most meaningful experience of the day.

  2. GRATI-TUESDAY: Write down 3 things you are grateful for.

  3. WALK-IT-OUT WEDNESDAY: Take a brisk 10 minute walk today!

  4. "THANK YOU FOR" THURSDAY: Here's a challenge, start every conversation with "<Person's name,> thank you for..."

  5. FRIENDLY FRIDAY: Think of one nice thing you can do for someone and do it! Maybe its sending a positive message to someone, or maybe it's helping someone with their groceries, or maybe it's buying a cup of coffee for the person behind you in line?! Let me know how you choose to be friendly this Friday!

  6. “SAT”-URDAY: Sit down in a quiet place. Close your eyes and picture yourself sitting by the bank of a river. Become aware of your breath: In and out. Keep your mind clear. If you find your mind “talking,” notice the thoughts, but don’t engage them. For example, if your mind wanders to a thought, “After this, go get the laundry out of the dryer,” your response would be “I noticed a thought about doing laundry.” And then LET THE THOUGHT GO by visualizing it on a leaf floating away on the flowing river and bring your mind back to silence. Be sure you "SAT" by the river for 3 minutes!

  7. SMILEY-SUNDAY: Did you know it takes more muscles to frown, that it does to smile? Look in the mirror and smile at yourself for 3 minutes. 

Are you thinking, "How can I get happy, I have hair pulling, skin picking or nail biting?"

If you are here, chances are your hair pulling, skin picking or nail biting have been ruining your life. But you can get happy despite these issues, with practice. If we had zero adversity in life, it'd be boring. Adversity, struggle, challenges - it's what makes us who we are.

Are you gonna be the person that lets battered nails or sores on your back or hair on your floor STEAL YOUR HAPPY? Or are you be the person that does the hard work to still find something meaningful that happened today, or find something good to be grateful for today, or walk in peace today, or thank someone in your life today, or be a friend to someone in need today or sit in peace today or smile like you are FILLED WITH HAPPINESS today? 

How you feel is how you'll be. So why not set a daily goal to PRACTICE FEELING HAPPY?!

By actively practicing happiness, you will strengthen the "happiness muscles" in the same way Keen helps you strengthen your "awareness muscles." The goal in both instances is to make those muscles respond automatically! All it takes is a choice and consistent practice.

Next week, we’ll share our last bit of tips on how you can IMPROVE YOU!

To get notified when these valuable tips come out, sign up for our newsletter.

Here’s to an Improved, Imperfect You with a Growth Mindset & Huge Happiness Muscles!

Love, strength + awareness,

Aneela

(Header Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash


About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates:


How to Reset Your Mindset

In our first step to a “New Year, Improved You,” we talked about letting go of the need to be perfect so that we could make room in our life to do the hard work to continuously improve. We also talked about how unnecessarily fearing failure sets us up to fail.

All of this takes time and effort to shift your mindset. You may have been born with it, but your mind is not set. Today, our Keen Family Member AND Director of Keen Awareness, Ellen Crupi is here to share how to change your mindset.

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Mindfulness was THE buzzword in mental health for 2017. Don't get me wrong, it's very important to be mindful, be present, and focus on the now.  Especially for us trichsters and skin pickers, being mindful is critical. If we are not mindful of what we are doing then there goes dozens of strands of hair in a flash, or a batch of new scars on our skin. Been there, done that and mindfully don’t want to go back!

Your mindset is not set. You can change it.

But mindfulness is only part of the equation. I have found that having a growth mindset is essential in my recovery, and in my day to day life.  Below, I share some steps to shift your mindset, but first...

What is Mindset?

Mindset is a simple idea discovered and coined by Carol Dweck. Through her decades of research on achievement and success, she found that there are two mindsets:

  1. a fixed mindset

  2. a growth mindset.

Carol tells us, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.  They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.  They also believe that talent alone creates success - without effort.”  

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work - brains and talent are just the starting point.  This view creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishments.”

Mindsets are beliefs about ourselves.  Our minds are constantly monitoring what we do and interpreting our actions...it’s that running dialogue in our heads.  

A fixed mindset focuses on judging.  Does this sound familiar?:

I can’t stop!  Why can’t I keep my hands down?  I had no idea that I pulled that much hair this time, what’s wrong with me?  I stopped for 3 hours, 3 days, 3 weeks (you fill in the number) and now I pulled, or picked, and all my hard works is gone.  What’s wrong with me? I’m a loser.  No one will ever think I’m pretty.

Or in cases where we are the parent or a partner of a loved one suffering from a body focused repetitive behavior like hair pulling, skin picking or nail biting: 

What’s wrong with them?  Why can’t they just stop?  Why are they doing this to themselves? Am I a bad parent, spouse, or friend? What did I do wrong?

With a growth mindset, the internal monologue is not judgmental, it’s supportive. Now of course people with growth mindsets still feel sad, frustrated and defeated, but the difference is they look for constructive actions to take to improve:

I’m pulling (or picking) again and I can’t keep my hands down!  OMG!  Ok, what can I learn from this?  Where am I and what am I doing?  I’m watching TV and this is a danger zone so I’m going to...get up and put on a hat, gloves, drink some water, grab my fidget toy.  

Is this easy?!  No way!  Is it doable!? Sure is, you just need to practice!

Getting to a Growth Mindset

I started pulling out my hair at age 11 (more on my story in time).  I also had a fixed mindset. I used to tell myself, “I won’t be good at math ever and I’ll always pull my hair.”

Last year I met a fabulous school counselor as my husband and I were deciding on schools for our daughter. I shared my relationship with math and the counselor told me about Carol Dweck, changing my outlook.

He said, “Ellen. You are not good at math, YET.”  

YET.  

This one word gave that whole sentence - and my inner dialogue - a completely different meaning.  

Say this outloud: I can’t stop pulling or picking.

Now say this aloud: I can’t stop pulling or picking, yet.  

Doesn’t it feel different? Empowering? Aren’t you inspired to action?!

How a growth mindset can help to stop hair pulling, stop skin picking or stop nail biting

Ready for action? Here are 3 steps from Carol Dweck to help you change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. With patience and practice you will notice your thoughts and “flip a switch” to reset your mindset.

Step 1:  Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice”

As you approach the challenge of not pulling or picking your voice might say, “Are you sure you can do this?  You have failed before, you don’t have the willpower to stop.” or “What if I fail and I start pulling and picking again?”

If you hit a set back your voice might say, “You see, you can’t do anything, or now you’ve undone all the good work you put into not pulling/picking, you mind as well just continue.” “I thought you were capable but you are not, or it’s my mom/friends/husbands fault because they are stressing me out.”

When you hear your inner voice beating yourself up, just acknowledge it, notice it and move on to step 2.

 

Step 2:  Recognize that you have a mindset choice

How you interpret challenges, setbacks and criticism is your choice.

Sort of like with your pulling and picking - it’s only once you have Keen awareness that you truly have a choice!

You can interpret your thoughts through the lens of a fixed mindset voice: that you are lacking in ability.  Or you can CHOOSE a growth mindset lens, and recognize that the negative self speak is a sign that you need to ramp up your strategies and efforts.  

When your ready to choose a growth mindset, move to step 3.

Step 3:  Talk back with a growth mindset voice

Instead of, “I’ve pulled/picked. I’ve failed again.”

Talk back! Reverse it. Grow from it:

“I pulled/picked again.  Where was I, what was I doing, did I have tools with me...what can I learn about this time so I can be more prepared next time?”

Here is also where you can add your “Yet.”

“I’m not gonna stop hair pulling, YET!”

“I can’t stop skin picking, YET!”

“My nails won’t be nice, YET!”

Once you’ve gotten in harmony with your growth mindset voice you can take on challenges on wholeheartedly, knowing that setbacks are just meant to teach. Learn and try again. 

Like awareness, your mindset can be slippery.  We have our days that we pull and pick less than other days. Mindset is like that too.  But the more you practice and learn about yourself, the better you become and the more resilient you are during setbacks.  

If you give this a try, let me know how you do. You can find me at ellen@habitaware.com.  

By learning to reset your mindset, you will be able to take on anything that life throws at you.

Next week, we’ll share more tips on how you can IMPROVE YOU!

To get notified when these valuable tips come out, sign up for our newsletter.

With just three weeks in, I hope the New Year is still Happy for you! Here’s to an Improved (& Imperfect) You! 

Love, strength + awareness,

Aneela

(Header Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash)

About Ellen Crupi, Director of Keen Awareness

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I’m a 40+ "trichster" with two kids, two dogs and a husband (in that order).  I found Keen online after a late night pulling session and it changed my life. After two weeks of using Keen, I knew I had to work with the brilliant minds at HabitAware to help others find positive change. If I’m not helping our Keen family, you can find me walking my dogs, carpooling my kids, and looking for the best dark chocolate around.   

About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates:

New Year, Improved You: Resist Perfection.

Notice it’s not “New Year, New You.” We aren’t wiping the slate clean. We aren’t starting from scratch. You are who you are and if you’re here, you have one desire: to take what you have and make it better. To Improve You.

But, where is the room for improvement, if you are already perfect? Well, that’s the first situation we’re going to help you improve upon.

How to tell if you have perfectionist tendencies:

Research has shown that folks with body focused repetitive behaviors (for example, chronic hair pulling - trichotillomania, skin picking - dermatillomania or nail biting) maybe perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform task at a 'normal' pace. They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals. They also experience greater levels of boredom.”

Ask yourself:

  • Do you have an all or nothing mentality?
  • Do you have an intense fear of failure?
  • Is this song your internal dialogue?:

If YES, then before you can IMPROVE, you need to FIRST BREAK-FREE FROM PERFECTION.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the un-ending struggle for order and control. The opposite of perfection isn't chaos, it's more of a "go with the flow" attitude.

To explain perfectionism, here's a chart that shows the mindset of a someone with perfectionist tendencies and the mindset of someone who isn't a perfectionist, but rather an optimalist.

Perfectionists...

  • are goal oriented and ambitious
  • have an "all or nothing" mentality
  • fear failure
  • focus on the end results
  • are rigid/fixed
  • want to have it all / need control
  • play it safe
  • are idealistic
Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Optimalists...

  • are goal oriented and ambitious
  • can "go with the flow"
  • embrace failure
  • focus on the journey
  • are flexible
  • content with "good enough"
  • take risks
  • are realistic
Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash

Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash

How to Embrace IMperfectION?

Perfectionists make choices that avoid disappointment and maintain control of situations.

Perfectionism is an attitude, and attitudes can be adjusted!

They often procrastinate or over think the HOW of getting things done - agonizing over the method to ensure something is done in the best way possible, as well as agonizing over the end result.

But all of this can change. Even a die-hard perfectionist can adopt a new perspective and identify and change problematic behavior with practice.

  • You can learn to be more realistic.
  • You can learn to accept failure.
  • You can learn to take risks.
  • You can learn to be kinder to yourself.

Here are three ways to evolve from a perfectionist to an optimalist:

  1. Adopt a new perspective
  2. Practice accepting failure

How to adopt an optimalistic perspective:

To shift from a perfectionist to an optimalist will take time, awareness and mindful practice.

One thing to start with is goal-setting. Rather than a single, lofty goal, say "I am going to stop pulling out my hair completely," try instead to break that down into achievable and realistic mini-goals.

This is also why so many New Years Resolutions fail - they focus on the single outcome rather than "concrete, measurable, AND time-oriented action steps."

Changing an idealistic resolution of  "I want to stop picking in 2018" to a realistic goal of "I am going to set a timer while I am in the bathroom and I will cut one minute off my picking time each day for the next two weeks, so it's only 5 minutes."

See? This goal is:

  • concrete - I know exactly the step I will take
  • measurable - I can measure the length of time in the bathroom
  • time-oriented - I'm giving my self two weeks

How to accept failure:

Instead of thinking of it as failing, think of it as FALLING. Then get back up, dust yourself off and try again.

Another way to adopt an optimalistic attitude is to practice being content with "good enough," or even one step further, to practice accepting failure.

While it may seem that perfectionists can never fail, it’s quite the opposite. Failure paralyzes a perfectionist. For non-perfectionists, failing is more like falling: they get up, dust themselves off and try again.

Failure is a key part of learning and growing. Mistakes make us human. Mistakes matter.

So my challenge to you: accept your failure. If your goal is to stop pulling in 2018, and by today, Day 3 of 2018, you pulled, ACCEPT it.

Easier said than done, right? I know. Here's how you can try: 

First. Get up. Yes. Right now. Walk to your nearest mirror. Look yourself in the eye. Take a deep breath and say "{{Your name here}}, it is OK that you pulled your hair.  You are human. Humans are not perfect. Humans make mistakes. I love you."
Next. Grab a note book and WRITE DOWN why you think you failed. This is not an exercise is being mean to yourself. This is meant to be an objective review of what went wrong. Because if you are aware of what went wrong, then you can be sure not to do it again.
Finally. Go back and set a more attainable goal, using the tips on how to adopt an optimalistic perspective.

Repeat the above for as long as needed. Just as with hair pulling or skin picking, you aren't going to reverse years of perfectionism in just one blog post. This is one of those "it's a marathon, not a sprint" type exercises. 

Once you’ve gotten closer to breaking-free from perfection and recognizing your need to improve, you are well on your way to making it happen!

By learning how to move away from perfectionistic tendencies, you can actually learn to take control and stop hair pulling, stop nail biting or stop skin picking.

Next week, we’ll share tips on how to change your mindset so you can set your mind for success.

To get notified when these valuable tips come out, sign up for our newsletter.

Happy New Year. Here’s To an Improved (& Imprefect) You! 

Love, strength + awareness,

Aneela

About Keen by HabitAware

HabitAware makes Keen, a smart bracelet that helps manage nail biting, hair pulling, thumb sucking, and other subconscious behaviors. Customized gesture detection brings you into awareness and helps you develop healthier habits.

Order now & sign up for our e-newsletter for helpful strategies, news & important product updates: