Going to the salon is typically an enjoyable experience for most people I know. It’s a time to not have to work or to cook or to run errands. A time to catch up with yourself. To read a magazine. To be pampered. To relax. But for those of you who are highly sensory like me, going to the salon is anything but relaxing.
It's an overwhelming flood of sensory stimuli: The bright lights and the loud music. The hair dryers drying and the sink water running and the people talking louder to be heard over all the other noises. The people and the objects moving in every direction. The smells of products in the air.
Being at the salon can be a sensory nightmare, and if I'm not careful, I can completely dissociate when I'm there causing a dangerous flood of anguish and emotions when I leave. But like any other situation, I just have to work hard to stay present and to meet my sensory needs. And there’s nothing like a fresh haircut to make life feel a little better (and there’s the fact that I’m almost completely gray at 38 and don’t want to be), so I go once a month even if I’m reluctant to.
While going to the salon can be challenging, I am fortunate enough to have a hairstylist who is understanding of my sensory needs. She is not only understanding, but she thinks of ways to accommodate me before I even walk through the door — a sign of someone who truly cares.
Over the years, with the help of my stylist, I’ve learned there are some tricks to making my sensory experience at the salon more enjoyable. So here are 10 ways to have a good sensory and mental health experience while going to the salon:
Find a hairstylist who is willing to understand and to accommodate your sensory and mental health needs (like mine!).
Go on days (and, if you can, at times) that are less busy than others. For example, I like to go on Tuesdays because there are typically less people at the salon I go to. Going other days, it’s too busy for me; I get too overstimulated.
Schedule your appointments in advance so you can choose the times that work for you and so you aren’t at the mercy of when they can fit you in. For example, I know it works best for me to go later at night. That way it’s less busy, and I know I can come home after and relax.
Tell your stylist about your sensory and mental health needs. This also requires you to know what your needs are before going in. Communication and awareness are important in every mental health situation.
Ask your stylist if there is a place you can go in the salon that is quieter and calmer. For example, my stylist knows me well and once suggested I sit in the spa area while my color processed. It was so amazing that I now go every time. That way, I’m in a chill, dark room listening to meditation music as opposed to sitting in a busy, bright room with loud pop music and hair dryers and people talking over hair dryers. If there's nowhere you can go, use headphones to listen to your own calming music.
Test out different products before applying them to your hair if your skin is sensitive or if you are sensitive to certain smells. For example, my stylist will put mousse in her hand for me to smell it first or spray hairspray in the air so I can tell if I can tolerate it before she uses it.
Apply lavender to your wrists to smell when you feel stressed. I also put it on my jaw because I unknowingly clench it when my processing is difficult. Also, applying Burt's Bees Beeswax Lip Balm around your hairline prevents color from sticking to your skin, and its peppermint scent can be soothing too.
Drink something hot or something cold or suck on a mint or a lozenge while you are there to stay present.
Eat before you go. Not so much that you are uncomfortable, but enough so that your blood sugar doesn’t drop. Or bring a snack. Crunchy foods help you stay present too.
Make sure you breathe. I sometimes catch myself holding my breath while my stylist is cutting, dying or drying my hair because I get so uncomfortable, so I set the intention to breathe before I go in and try to stay mindful of my breath while there.
As in any highly-sensory situation, take breaks when you need to, communicate your needs and strive to have the best experience possible — you deserve it! (And tip your stylists well — they deserve it!)
This story originally ran on Psych Central on March 22, 2019. Since Psych Central has been sold, the link to the original is no longer available.