The Tenuous Link between Grey Hair, Decision Fatigue and Loneliness.
Updated: Jul 24, 2019
So I did it. Went grey. For years I spent a small fortune on hair colours terrified of what I might look like a la naturale. Patient hairdressers laboriously rolled back the clock on my tresses while battling my increasingly irritated, painful scalp even when using supposedly “organic” hair colours.
If colouring your hair is something you do because you think your job requires it I get that. The sad truth is that in our youth and beauty obsessed culture it probably does! If you love experimenting with colour good for you. If you enjoy the quarterly appointments, monthly touch-ups, cuppa and conversation as a self-care ritual more power to you. I never did. Always found it tedious. Don’t get me wrong. I think hairdressers are fabulous people. Part therapist, part chemist, part artist. But life is short and colours cost. Sure there are home colours. But I’ve been there, tried that and lacked the patience. There are just other things I would like to do with my time. Going grey was the start of a whole re-evaluation of life - slowing down and simplifying what I could. And it was an off the cuff remark from a traditional aboriginal woman that provided the impetus.
My husband, children and I lived and worked in a small aboriginal community in the remote northeast of our beautiful country for many years. One day I was talking to the principal of the little community school there - a local woman called Nipurranydji. We were chatting away and she commented that indigenous and non-indigenous Australian women differ in respect to their hair. She said aboriginal women consider white hair to be a status symbol. For them it reflects a lot of life lived. It is a physical sign of having become an elder - a holder of knowledge, skill and wisdom.
That was more than a decade ago and I tell you her simple statement blew me away. “Hell yeh” I thought. Why have I been doing this to myself? The money, time, pain and inconvenience. Why do I hide the fact I’m getting older. Most men don’t. Why should I? I’m not ashamed to have lived more than 5 decades. My hair bears testament to the fact that I have learned a lot; worked hard to help improve the world; created 2 beautiful living beings; and had some great adventures. It is a celebration of my life not an embarrassment. I began to notice every silver-haired lady rocking their naturally-ageing locks and decided to go cold turkey. No more colour for me.
Woohoo. Freedom!!! It was interesting to watch the natural colour emerge. I felt like one of the superheroes on X-men as the grey began to gradually materialize from the crown down - my younger, alter ego slowly disappearing. Hello me. To my great surprise I found I liked this natural colour. A dark shade interspersed with cascades of what seemed to be a startling white silver. As it unveiled more and more of itself over the next few years, I found it a much softer look which kind of went with my ageing face. Sure it makes me look older. No doubt about it. But as Nipurranydji suggested, what is wrong with that!
It also changed the colours that suit me. That was fun. Bright reds, lemons and summer sky blue made me pop. Softer sage greens and lilac look good now too. These I added mostly through simple accessories which was a lot cheaper than changing my whole wardrobe. I now have a simple base colour palette that makes procuring clothes much easier.
I watched a documentary about a spunky 80+ year old New York dame who loved clothes and dressed flamboyantly everyday. I was surprised to notice she didn’t colour her hair either. To introduce a brightness to her face she wore red glasses and a slash of red lippy - her only makeup. Genius, I thought becoming an instant disciple. No more laborious makeup routine for me. Red glasses and lipstick. Done.
One stressful thing about modern life that slowing down and simplifying changes is the sheer amount of decisions that have to be made. There is so much on offer that we are constantly choosing, constantly filtering information - this means that in the course of a day we probably make many more decisions than our hunter gatherer ancestors would have. Just a visit to the supermarket can involve a hundred little decisions comparing the vast amount of products on offer. We are socialized into it and don’t realize we are doing it. But it all takes up valuable cognitive real estate.
Did you know that on average an adult makes 35 000 decisions a day? - I find that staggering! Decision fatigue is real. Simplifying life for me has included cutting down on the number of decisions I have to make, yet paradoxically, initially I had to make more. I suck at decision-making. The up side of re-evaluating my life was I felt that I got better at them. As I blogged last week I was “sharpening the saw.” Working out what I truly needed wading through every area of my life. Going grey was the start. I not only saved time and money, I cut down on the number of decisions I had to make. This was important to me as each time I return to city life I am struck by how complex and busy it can be.
I am probably oversensitive to the sensory overload of modern urban living having spent 8 years in the bush where the only shop was a shed. After a few years in a remote area I found returning to the city surprisingly challenging. Going to a supermarket with its vast array of foodstuffs was daunting. Doing the whole weekly shop was exhausting until I again worked out what products worked for our family. City dwellers do this all the time. In fact many have become such skilled hunters of the urban savanna they go on shopping sprees just for fun! Hunting not because something is needed - but to accumulate things they think will make them happy or look successful. But competition and materialism may be forcing us apart and destroying our planet. Stopping colouring my hair was one of many things I did to simplify and cut back on the amount of decisions I had to make. A small step towards a slower life.
In Wellbeing Magazine Issue 181, naturopath and freelance writer, Linda Moon, shares the work of Hugh Mackay, a prominent Australian social researcher. Mackay states that busyness has become one of the biggest barriers to social connection. We seem to have less and less energy to just hang out with each other. How many evenings do you sit at home thinking - I really should go out to xyz...but I just feel knackered. I know I do. We are socialized to be independent and successful rather than interdependent and communal and researchers believe this is contributing to a pandemic of chronic loneliness. While intermittent loneliness is unpleasant, it is probably a normal part of life. Prolonged loneliness, however, can kill. US researchers from Brigham Young University followed 3 million people over 7 years. When matched for age, socioeconomic status and health, they discovered those who report subjective feelings of loneliness are 26% more likely to die than the “non-lonely.” And the statistics are just as bad for people who don’t mind being on their own. We are social beings!
Loneliness is as bad for your health as obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyle and drug abuse. In the bestseller “Lost Connections” Johann Hari explains that acute loneliness significantly increases cortisol levels causing us as much stress as a blow to our body. So you can imagine what long term loneliness does. It is linked to a whole raft of health issues including reduced immunity, slower healing, inflammation, elevated blood pressure, greater risk of dementia and cognitive decline, insomnia, anxiety, depression and suicide. It even has an economic impact because it hampers individual productivity.
Embracing natural hair might not be for everyone. But it was one way I saved money and time. One small way to try to create more space for the passions and people I love. Next week I will share other grooming tricks I have discovered. Then I plan to talk about simplifying the home and many other areas of life. I don’t think the journey to living a slower, simpler life has an end point. I seem to be always learning. I think it’s a great subject to start a conversation about. Is it something you have ever thought about? Have you tried? What success have you had? If you have any stories about going grey I would love to hear them. Please feel welcome to share in the comments below. If going grey appeals but you would like some ideas about how to go about it other than just going cold turkey like I did, there are plenty of ideas to be had on YouTube. Just put “How to go grey” into the search engine.