My Natural Hair Triggers my Anxiety

By Danielle Clarke

Hair represents a lot within the black community for both men and women alike. Not only does it catalyze self-expression, but it also can be a determining factor in how we are treated by others. Every hairstyle we choose, every “wash day”, and every styling product we try, we take into consideration not only how our hair will react, but how others will react to it. Will this hairstyle be deemed professional? Will it be suitable for vacation? Will I “ruin it” if I go for a swim? How long will it take for me to wash it? Will my hair dry in time for that big event? Will it stay in place? Will I have enough time to style my hair before work? The questions go on and on because oftentimes when choosing to wear our hair in its natural state it can have a mind of its own. We have to be prepared to embrace frizz, “failed” hairstyles and lengthy styling sessions which can all be out of our control. All of this paired with the unwritten rules our guardians instilled in us such as, “You don’t leave your house looking any old way” or  “Your hair must look presentable all the time”? Que the anxiety. 

Oftentimes when anxiety creeps in we experience excessive worry, worst-case scenario thinking, irritability, restlessness, or feeling self-conscious. As a black woman with coily natural hair, I sometimes get into the habit of fixating on my hair. I plan so much of my week around what my hair may look like, hoping to be lucky enough to enjoy special occasions when my hair looks “its best”. Not only will I identify a hairstyle, but I’ll also identify a backup hairstyle just in case the first hairstyle doesn’t meet my expectations. If no hairstyle works out, it can cause feelings of frustration or irritability. It can be exhausting styling natural hair! Thankfully society has made so much progress with the acceptance of natural hair, but that doesn’t always decrease the internal pressures we feel to “tame” or “control” our hair. It can be a mental battle, but luckily there are many ways to reframe these thoughts to help decrease natural hair anxiety. 

A few things have helped me along the way to decrease my natural hair anxiety: time, space, intention, and acceptance. I began to embrace my natural hair years ago and one thing I’ve noticed is that the anxiety I experience now is less than the anxiety I experienced in the beginning. As time passed and I grew to learn more about my hair, I adapted a routine that worked for me and is within my control. Natural hair frizz cannot completely be controlled, but I can control my routine which has improved the health of my hair and my understanding of it. Focusing on what is within my control, and not what’s out of my control, has been the most intentional act of self-love I’ve adapted. I now check in with myself before I do anything to my hair to determine what I have the bandwidth for; that is the determining factor of any style I do. If I have no time or energy to pour love into my hair, I create space between myself and my hair. For me, this is utilizing protective styles such as braids and buns. For others, this may look different. Lastly, I accept my hair. I love my coils, my afro texture, and the frizz that comes with it. Accepting my hair for what it is and what it is not has made embracing my natural hair so much easier. I no longer believe I have to do too much to it, nor do I consider the opinions of others as much as I once did. I know what my hair symbolizes for me, and that is more than enough. If you experience anxiety caused by coily or curly natural hair, let’s talk about it in therapy. 

There are many therapeutic modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that explore thought patterns, identify ways to cope with triggers, reframe negative thoughts, and encourage self-acceptance. You may even need to participate in psychodynamic therapy to identify the unspoken rules you were taught about your hair which you may need to let go of. Hair is hair, and whichever way you choose to wear it as a black person, just know you show up more than enough regardless. Let your hair represent whatever feels right to you so you can show up as the most authentic version of yourself!