For people who suffer from anxiety, a trip to the barber or salon can be a stressful experience. Sitting still for an hour with a stranger in your personal space can cause both social anxiety and claustrophobia in the best of us. Fortunately, there are some ways we can stop panic attacks at the barber and manage our haircut anxiety, or tonsurephobia:
- Educate Yourself About Your Haircut Anxiety
- Remember This is Temporary and Not Dangerous
- Get Your Breathing Under Control
- Practice by Letting a Friend Cut Your Hair
- Consider a Barber Who Makes House Calls
- Take an Anxiety Supplement for Tonsurephobia
- Find the Right Barbershop or Salon for You
- Choose the Perfect Barber or Hairstylist
- Decide Between Walking in vs Scheduling an Appointment
- Talk to Your Barber or Hairstylist
- Use Music, TV, or Physical Sensation as a Focus Object
- Bring Something to Keep Your Hands Busy
- Ask for a Bathroom Break if You Need a Minute Alone
- Wait for the “Fish Bag Effect” to Kick in
Just because you experience haircut anxiety or panic attacks at the barber now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way. By implementing some – or all – of these methods, you can conquer your tonsurephobia (fear of haircuts) for good!
Alright, let’s get right into it and explain each step in greater detail.
Educate Yourself About Your Haircut Anxiety
Before we even think about rushing into a barbershop or hair salon, I want to arm you with a few basic facts.
With any phobia or anxiety, the first step is always going to be to educate yourself about, and understand, your anxiety. Haircut anxiety, also known as tonsurephobia, is no different. The very first step to beating your tonsurephobia is to ask yourself why you are feeling this anxiety in the first place. This will require some introspection on your part, but in most cases, it shouldn’t be that hard to determine the anxiety source.
Now, I am not a doctor and I cannot diagnose, treat, or cure any anxiety disorder you may be experiencing. However, I believe it is unlikely that your fear is of the actual physical cutting of your hair. More likely, I think that most people suffering from haircut anxiety are fearing the situation as a whole. Being stuck in one place, not allowed to move, can cause a degree of claustrophobia. Having a stranger so close to your face and inside your “personal bubble” can cause feelings of social anxiety. The fear of having a panic attack and embarrassing yourself can compound all of these feelings.
Do a bit of digging into your own thoughts and try to understand the processes behind your tonsurephobia. This self-awareness will help you to conquer your fears later on. If you haven’t already, take some time to read our articles on the root cause of anxiety and on what panic attacks are. Those articles can bring you up to speed and help you better understand the thought processes behind your anxiety.
Remember This is Temporary and Not Dangerous
Mild anxiety is one thing, and it can certainly be a discomfort. But severe anxiety, or panic attacks, are a whole other beast. When dealing with a panic attack, our ability to think logically and rationally often goes completely out the window. Our sympathetic nervous system takes over and fight or flight mode kicks in. Our brain falsely believes that we are in danger, and it primes our body to either fight its way out or make an escape. This is why, when extremely anxious, we often feel as though we need to immediately remove ourselves from our current environment. We start breathing rapidly and our heart rate speeds up. It’s a horrible feeling.
There are, however, two very important facts that you need to continually remind yourself of during a panic attack. Those facts are:
- A panic attack is temporary
- Panic Attacks are not dangerous
Let me elaborate a bit.
First off, because we are thinking illogically during a panic attack, we almost always forget that a panic attack is temporary. We lose all sense of time and often feel as though we are going to “feel this way forever” or as though panic attacks are now going to be a daily obstacle in our lives. It’s important to remind yourself that this is never the case. In my own experience, panic attacks are typically over within 3-10 minutes. They are terrifying minutes and may feel much longer, granted. But they are temporary and will resolve themselves eventually even without any effort on your part. Take a glance at your watch, set a timer for 3 minutes, and wait for the worst part to pass.
It’s equally important to remind yourself that panic attacks are not dangerous. If you’ve had panic attacks before, you know this to be true. You may feel, or even truly believe, that you are going to die; but ultimately you always emerge from a panic attack unscathed.
Try your best to remember these facts in the face of emotional crisis. Just being aware and continually reminding yourself of them can often be enough to keep panic attacks at bay.
Get Your Breathing Under Control
This is the last tip I have that is general to all panic attacks and anxiety, I promise. After this one, we’ll focus solely on how to stop haircut anxiety or how to stop a panic attack at the barber or hairstylist. Promise!
I always have to mention breath work because it is just so crucial to stopping any panic attack. During a panic attack, our brain preps our body for emergency physical response; this makes us feel as though we’re ready to run a marathon. Unfortunately for us, this also makes us feel as though we are not getting enough oxygen. Panicking, we begin to hyperventilate in an attempt to take in more air. However, while hyperventilating we are actually getting too much oxygen, causing our carbon dioxide levels to be too low. This makes us feel even worse, and can heighten the intensity of our panic attacks.
Most people who are hyperventilating during a panic attack will benefit from practicing some breath work. This means taking active control over your breathing in an attempt to reset it back to a healthy pace. The correct pace for breath work varies considerably from expert to expert, but I wouldn’t overthink it too much. I like to breathe in 6 seconds through the nose and out 6 seconds through the mouth; or, breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, and exhale for 5 seconds. You will have your own preference for what feels best, so don’t be afraid to experiment a bit. The main takeaway is that you are getting your breathing under control rather panting uncontrollably.
If breath work doesn’t come naturally to you, you may benefit from practicing yoga or meditation on your own time. Both of these exercises incorporate breathing strategies for relaxation and can be powerful coping mechanisms for anxiety.
Practice by Letting a Friend Cut Your Hair
The best way to conquer any phobia, tonsurephobia included, is through a process called gradual exposure therapy. With gradual exposure therapy, we try to slowly introduce ourselves to small, controlled doses of our fear, without inducing panic. Most people suffering from tonsurephobia will probably want to avoid haircuts entirely, but doing this is a poor strategy. When we give in to avoidance of our fears, we reinforce our phobias and make them even worse over time. Only by facing our fears can we hope to slowly achieve fear extinction.
The key to successfully using exposure therapy to your advantage is to find your “growth zone.” The growth zone is the sweet spot which lies somewhere between your “comfort zone” (where you are completely comfortable and anxiety-free) and your “panic zone” (where you become so anxious that you begin to panic).
Depending on your level of haircut anxiety, your growth zone may be totally different from another person’s growth zone. Only you can determine this sweet spot for yourself. For starters, you can try cutting your own hair, or having a friend cut your hair. Perhaps your fear lies in having a stranger cut your hair, or in leaving the house or entering a barbershop.
Start small and see if you are comfortable cutting your own hair, or having a friend or family member cut your own hair. If you are comfortable with this, you can slowly work your way up to getting your haircut at a barbershop or hair salon. If you’re not comfortable with this, you should set smaller goals to expose yourself to having your hair cut by yourself or a friend.
Consider a Barber Who Makes House Calls
To build on the previous step with exposure therapy, you may also wish to look into finding a barber who makes house calls. Many forms of anxiety are linked to agoraphobia, or the fear of leaving the house. It’s possible that your fear of getting your hair cut could be linked to entering the physical setting of a barbershop or salon. If so, that’s not a problem; we can work up to that later. For now, let’s just focus on getting your hair cut however we can.
Some cities have local businesses who offer mobile barber visits at the client’s own home. If you don’t have such a barbershop in your own town or city, you can still probably find a local barber who is willing to make a house call for the right price. If you already know and have a relationship with a barber, you could ask them what their rate would be for a house call. Otherwise, you could just try calling a local barbershop and negotiating a fair rate for a house call. Plenty of barbers are ambitious enough to do house calls, although the rate may be higher and you would be expected to leave a significantly better tip for the convenience.
Take an Anxiety Supplement for Tonsurephobia
I pretty much always advise against relying on anxiety supplements as a daily-use solution for anxiety. However, most people will only need a haircut once or twice per month. Due to the occasional nature of a haircut, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea to consider using an anxiety supplement for tonsurephobia.
For similar situations, I have used stress-relief supplements like passionflower tea (mild), kava (moderate), or phenibut (strong). It is not safe to use these supplements in combination with one another. I believe that any one of these could help to take the edge off feelings of anxiety long enough for a person to comfortably get through a haircut.
I am also of the belief that it is better to face your fears with some help (via a supplement) than it is to avoid your fears altogether. If an anxiety supplement will make the difference and help you to confront your fears, I say go for it.
Find the Right Barbershop or Salon for You
After getting your haircut at home for a bit, you’ll likely find that such an experience is well within your comfort zone. At this point, you’re probably ready to take the next step and start getting your haircut at a proper barbershop or hair salon. What you’ll want to do now is find the right barbershop for you.
To start, simply perform an Internet search for “local barbers,” or “hairstylists,” etc. This should show you a number of locations that are reasonably accessible to you. You may wish to look at the reviews to get a feel for pricing, quality, and customer service ratings. Most local businesses will have photos on display. Take a look at the photos of some of these locations to get an idea of what each barbershop is like inside. If you’re particularly anxious, you may want to drive by the barbershop, or even take a quick look inside.
What you’re looking for here is an environment where you feel most comfortable. What I like in a barbershop may not be what you like. Here are some factors you may wish to consider:
- Are there TVs or music being played? (Some might find these distractions relaxing, others might find them overstimulating)
- Can you understand the language the barbers are speaking? (Barbershops can vary greatly on a cultural level. If you’re not comfortable with this, it’s a variable to consider)
- How busy is the barbershop? (Some people may prefer a smaller setting with less people around; others might prefer a bit more activity to take the focus off them)
Check a few places out and decide on one that checks the most important boxes for you. It’s important that whatever place you choose helps you to feel as comfortable as possible.
Choose the Perfect Barber or Hairstylist
Now that you’ve chosen a barbershop you like, the next step is going to be choosing the perfect barber or hairstylist. The first time you go, you’ll probably just want to walk in and take a haircut from whoever's available. While you’re in there, look around the shop and try to see the names of the other barbers – most of them will have their name displayed somewhere on their mirror or on a nearby barber certificate.
Feel free to chat a bit with the barber who's cutting your hair and see how you like them. But, at the same time, watch the other barbers to see if there is someone whose style or work you prefer. Write some of these barbers’ names down.
The next time it’s time for a haircut, schedule a haircut with a different barber at the same location. This is an important first step because, if you continue to go to the same barbershop for a while, you'll eventually become one barber’s “regular" client. At this point, you’ll probably feel rude going to anyone but that barber. Repeat this process of trying a different barber each time until you find one who you are truly comfortable with; do not feel pressured into settling for a less skilled barber or one who does not make you feel comfortable.
If you’ve never had a regular barber before, I highly recommend you develop this sort of relationship. Over time, a barber can become like a friend to you, and getting your haircut will feel as casual and relaxed as hanging out with a buddy. I am always loyal to my own barber; in fact, I developed enough of a friendship with my barber that I even flew him out to visit his family for his birthday. You will get a better haircut and feel less haircut anxiety if you can establish this sort of professional relationship with your barber.
Decide Between Walking in vs Scheduling an Appointment
Whenever you get your haircut, you have the option to either “walk-in” without an appointment, or to schedule an appointment in advance. Some barbershops are too busy to allow walk-ins, but most places have time to squeeze clients in between appointments.
Just be aware of these options in case one of them is more appealing and less stressful for you. If you’re the type of person who likes to plan things in advance and waste no time, you may prefer to book your appointment with your barber in advance. If you’re more of a “commitophobe” and the idea of committing to a set time and date stresses you out, you may prefer the casual approach of just walking in.
This step will probably not be a huge deal either way, but it’s just something to keep in mind in case having a set date on your calendar is causing more anticipatory anxiety than it’s worth.
Talk to Your Barber or Hairstylist
Whatever barber you choose, you should feel comfortable talking with them. Talking with the barber throughout your haircut can really be a good way to keep your mind busy and away from anxious thoughts. Especially over time, catching up with your barber will feel more and more like casually hanging out with a friend.
If it will make you feel better, you may wish to disclose your haircut anxiety to your barber. Even though it may feel silly, you are far from the only person who becomes anxious in such situations. Being aware of it, your barber can go to greater lengths to make sure you are comfortable, and they’ll be more understanding if you ever seem a bit fidgety or need a break. Of course, you absolutely do not have to disclose your anxiety to your barber or hairstylist if you do not want to. It can simply be a pleasant way to pass the time and distract you from any anxious thoughts.
Some people, of course, may feel some social anxiety at the barbershop and prefer not to talk at all. This is okay too, and there are plenty of barbers who cut hair in relative silence. If you prefer a less chatty barber, that’s something to consider when choosing who you'll go to regularly.
Use Music, TV, or Physical Sensation as a Focus Object
If you’ve chosen a barbershop that has a TV in it, or that plays music, this too can be an effective distraction from haircut anxiety. Either music or television work well as focus objects, or something that we can focus on to keep ourselves out of our own head. This can mean focusing on a game on television, or closing your eyes and actively listening to the music being played throughout the barbershop. This is probably the easiest way to stop feelings of anxiety and panic attacks during a haircut.
If music or television is not available, you can also try and use physical sensations as focus objects. While I get my haircut, I often close my eyes and actively “feel” myself getting a haircut. I like to try and visualize exactly what’s going on, without having to see it. Every stroke of the trimmer or shear of the scissors, I try to picture in my mind’s eye. In fact, this is the same strategy that I use to keep myself calm and focused while at the dentist.
This may not be a comfortable distraction for everyone, but it works incredibly well for myself. Whatever focus object you have at your disposal, find something to look at, listen to, feel, or even smell that can help you to refocus and center your thoughts when they start to wander toward panic mode.
Bring Something to Keep Your Hands Busy
Speaking of focus objects, one good thing about getting your haircut is the fact that your hands are concealed under a barber gown. If sitting in place for so long is the source of your anxiety, you may wish to find some sort of gadget that you can fidget with to keep you distracted.
Don’t forget, you can also take your phone out of your pocket and browse your apps if you become anxious and need a distraction.
Ask for a Bathroom Break if You Need a Minute Alone
If all else fails and you’re struggling to keep your panic attack under control, don’t forget that you can always ask your barber for a break. If you’ve already told you barber about your anxiety, he should be more than understanding about this. Otherwise, you can simply ask for a bathroom break or claim that you’ve got a scratch in your throat and need a drink of water. This can buy you some time to cool down and regroup your thoughts in a worst-case scenario.
My only suggestion/challenge to you here is that you try and hold out as long as possible. Sometimes, just knowing that we have an “out” is enough to help us calm down. Try to let your feelings of anxiety pass without necessarily pulling the rip-cord and asking for a break. You may feel more accomplished by realizing you do have the willpower to sit through it.
Wait for the “Fish Bag Effect” to Kick in
Something interesting that I’ve become aware of in situations like this is what I call the “fish bag effect.” This is a term I’ve coined to describe the period of acclimation we experience when entering a stressful situation. Here’s what I mean.
When I was a kid, my father had a saltwater fish tank. Whenever he bought a new fish to add to the tank, he didn’t just drop the fish right from the bag into the tank. Instead, he would set the plastic baggy containing the fish in the tank, allowing the water in the baggy to slowly adjust to the temperature of the tank. After some time, the fish would be acclimated to the temperature of the new tank, and could safely be released from the baggy without causing shock or harm to the fish.
In many situations, I’ve noticed that anxiety can work in a similar way. When you first enter the barbershop, or sit in the chair, you may start to feel anxious (sometimes this can take a few minutes). However, as time goes on, we become acclimated to our environment. 30 minutes into an hour-long haircut and our haircut anxiety is all but gone; we feel much more at ease and relaxed in our current environment.
I call this the “fish bag effect” because I often imagine anxiety like the fish – dropped straight into a new and unfamiliar tank, we can feel a bit shocked and anxious. But, in time, we acclimate to the new environment as those initial feelings of stress and fear dissipate.
This fish bag effect is just something to keep in mind with when dealing with tonsurephobia. Initially you may experience some heightened haircut anxiety but, after some time, your anxiety will naturally decrease as you acclimate and relax in your environment.