How a slumber party hairstyle of yore has helped me to quell my anxiety


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I’ve only developed three life skills in my entire 28 years: hula-hooping, tying a cherry stem with my tongue, and French braiding. Despite being the most aggressively unsexy of the bunch, it significantly solidified my slumber party standing for many, many years. But, as someone who hasn’t touched a sleeping bag in upwards of a decade, a French braid isn’t just a way to pass time while someone screens The Blair Witch Project, it’s now the way I stay sane as I navigate everyday adult stresses.

I first realized the soothing powers mid-meeting. You should probably know that I am anxious by nature, and I fidget when bored or nervous. At the time, my heart was beating a mile-a-minute: I have to present pitches! Original thoughts! With confidence! Without passing out! Among this team of near strangers! Intimidated and unable to chill, my hands unconsciously went to my hair. Thread this stand here, pick up another strand with it, thread that strand there, pick up another strand with it.

And breathe.

This was…life changing. In the past I’ve always found it calming to French braid my friend’s hair because it made me feel useful, and on some level, it was meditative. Something about the act grounds me and brings me down to Earth with each twist. So what gives? What is it about playing with hair, that keeps me from being overwhelmed?

“The feel of hair is itself a healthy experience, pleasant and calming, while braiding is a simple, repetitive action that can keep a person focused in the moment,” says licensed psychologist Krystine I. Batcho, PhD. “A bit of respite from the distractions of our hectic lives, braiding returns us to a natural behavior, in tune with the basics that are too often forgotten.”

This little exercise, therefore, provides me with a way to keep my mind occupied while the room is shaking. And as Dr. Batcho points out, it brings a comforting nostalgia factor, time-machining me back to a time before I had to figure out bills, health insurance, and the nuances of Google Analytics.

“The aesthetic effect harkens back to simpler times and satisfies the nostalgic need for connecting to the past and the wistful longing for a time when braiding hair was appreciated for its intrinsic value,” Dr. Batcho says. “It’s so satisfying to produce order, a pattern, from disorder, especially during these rapidly changing social times when we can begin to feel that so much is out of our control.”

When it comes to little actions of self-care sometimes it’s the ritual, not the result, that brings us peace in the chaos-drenched moments of our lives. Please believe that no matter how hard my life is spiraling—and oh, it does spin on an axis—sweeping my hands up to my hair never fails to give me some sort of healing respite. The last time I had my heart broken, like smash-shattered broken, I texted my roommate a fair warning about how I’d return home sniffly.

“Okay.” She texted, and then randomly, as if the universe was giving me a comforting shoulder squeeze. “Is there a chance you know how to French braid?” Oh, do I….

Ever cried while getting your haircut? Here’s why hair is such a big part of our identity. And if you’re not sure where your headache is coming from, It might be time to loosen your ponytail, Betty Cooper.

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