While you may or may not find the magic pill for hair loss, one thing that can greatly help you reduce hair loss is: Giving up Stress.
Yes, stress can bring on a whole host of health problems, from headaches to high blood pressure.
But stress can also cause hair loss, thinning, and balding.
Everyone experiences stress; it’s a regular part of life. Stress may be caused by major life events such as divorce, the death of a loved one, financial loss, or moving country.
Stress can also occur due to minor day to day problems: when the simple situations become the cause of extreme worry.
Your brain is not very good at distinguishing between a real threat and perceived threat.
So if you get super stressed over an argument with a friend, a work deadline, job interview, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you’re facing a true life-or-death situation. Also called as fight or flight response.
When you feel threatened your emergency stress system is activated. Your hypothalamus, a tiny control switch in your brain, sends out the order to release the stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline.
As a result, your breathing becomes faster, your heart starts pounding, your muscles tighten, and your senses become sharper. These changes energize your body and prepare you to meet the challenging situation.
So at times, the stress response can literally save you. For example, when you to slam the breaks to avoid an accident – in such a scenario, stress is a good thing.
Besides, stress can help you stay alert, motivated and focused. It’s what keeps you going to meet a deadline, sharpens your concentration when you’re playing a tournament, or drives you to study for an exam when you’d rather be surfing the internet.
Usually, when the pressure subsides, the body rebalances and you start to feel calm again.
But when you over-think your problems, and stress response keeps firing day after day, it can start damaging your health and your quality of life.
Stress can bring on a whole host of health problems, from headaches to high blood pressure. Too much stress can suppress our immune system, making us more prone to cold and infection. We might not sleep properly. It can change our appetite – either we eat too much or too little. It can drain our energy and leave us exhausted and run-down.
Well, there’s a strong link between stress and hair loss. To put simply, in times of stress, the body diverts its nutrients from the “less important areas such as hair and nails” to vital areas of the body such as organs.
Dermatologist Dr. Mayoral, explained at the AAD SKIN Academy that the body sometimes needs a ‘time out’ from growing hair to concentrate on recovery and healing.
Dr. Mayoral added that “stress may be the primary reason for unexplained hair loss“. With severe stress, hair stops growing and then falls out in a few months time.
Another important point is that when we are stressed we often don’t look after ourselves. For example, we may skip meals, or we may eat more sugary or processed foods than usual.
And if our hair doesn’t get enough nutrients to grow, it won’t. Or it will grow weak, brittle and dull looking.
The various types of stress-related hair loss can be put into 5 categories. But before we delve into it let’s see how hair grows….
On an average, we lose 50 to 100 hairs a day. And that’s normal. It happens during the shower, while you are drying it or when you comb it.
A human head hair grows for between two and seven years – which is why it can get so long. Other hairs have much shorter growth phases—an eyelash, for example, is 30 days.
After the growth phase (anagen) is over, hair then goes into catagen phase. Catagen is a very short phase lasting only a couple weeks, in which the follicle shrinks a little bit.
That’s followed by telogen or resting phase – when the hair pretty much sits there, doing nothing.
At any one time, 90 percent of our hair is growing, while the remaining 10% is in a resting state (for between 2-3 months). Then, at last, it falls out.
The hair follicle itself rests for three months before a new hair grows.
Growing Phase (2 to 7 years) → Resting Phase (2-3 months) → Hair Falls Out → A New Hair Grows
This process is always happening, and thus it’s totally normal for a person to lose around 100 strands a day.
There are 5 types of hair loss that can be associated with stress:
This is the most common type of stress-related hair loss. In telogen effluvium (TE), severe stress plays havoc with your hair growth cycle.
Normally 90% of hair is in growing phase and the remaining 10% is in the telogen/resting phase – waiting to fall out (see above). With TE, stress sends a large number of hair into the resting phase.
Several months later, affected hair might fall out suddenly when combing or washing —you may notice hair fall up to 10 times more than usual. TE can appear as thinning hair with the hair on the top of the scalp thinning more than the sides or back. More women than men experience TE.
Because there’s a delay between resting phase and when hair falls out, there’s likewise a delay between a stressful event and when hair loss might occur.
So if you start losing more hair ask yourself this question “What happened three or four months before?”
TE can occur due to emotional stress such as divorce, death, moving city, or serious financial worries. However, it can also be the result of physical stress caused by rapid weight loss, high fever, nutritional deficiencies, surgery and illnesses. TE can also occur due to medications, such as NSAIDs (including ibuprofen), beta-blockers, certain antidepressants, as well as vitamin A taken in high doses.
What exactly kicks the hairs into resting phase isn’t exactly clear, but a research suggests certain chemicals or hormones produced under stressful situations may be the cause. And a study done on rhesus macaque monkeys found that monkeys with more cortisol (a stress hormone) in their hair were more likely to have hair loss.
The good news is that this type of hair loss is temporary. If you get your stress under control, your hair will grow back.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “I’m so stressed I just want to pull my hair out!”
I wonder if this is where it came from.
People with trichotillomania (pronounced: trik-oh-till-oh-MAY-nee-uh) actually pull their hair out from their head, eyebrows, or other areas of their body. Some people with the condition twist or play with their hair or rub their scalp. It’s more common in young adults, and women are more likely than men to have this.
Unfortunately, this constant playing and pulling can leave bald patches on the scalp or eyebrows.
While some people are very aware of their pulling, others seem to do it in an absent-minded way (see above pic), without noticing what they’re doing.
No one knows exactly why people pull their hair out. Experts think the urge to pull their hair can be a way of dealing with negative feelings, such as stress, tension, loneliness or frustration.
If you have been pulling your hair knowingly or unknowingly, it’s worth paying attention to this habit as it can be the root cause of your hair loss.
Remember to keep your hands off your hair!!
Another type of stress-related hair loss is alopecia areata.
With alopecia, your body’s own immune system attacks your hair follicles — causing hair loss. Normally, the immune system defends your body against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. But, if you have alopecia, your immune system sees hair follicles as foreign and attacks them.
Rather than overall thinning, hair falls out in small round patches. These patches are usually well defined and about the size of a large coin. Alopecia affects both men and women equally.
In most people, the hair usually grows back in a few months time.
Nobody knows why the immune system attacks the follicles. A variety of factors are thought to trigger it, and stress is one of them.
The link between stress and alopecia has been received with skepticism. Yet, research is increasingly showing that severe emotional stress can cause the onset of alopecia.
Interestingly, the research findings show that human hair follicle can secret cortisol – the stress hormone – in the event of stress.
As we have seen, the brain controls the secretion of cortisol through a complex process known as HPA axis.
But this study found that hair follicles have their own mechanism to secret cortisol – like the HPA axis. And therefore they do posses the unique ability to respond to stress signals!
Another reason stress may cause hair loss is due to the lack of essential nutrients required for hair growth.
When we are stressed, we often do not look after ourselves as we should. For instance, we may skip meals or eat more sugary and processed foods than usual – which have hardly any nutrients in them.
Research suggests that stress tends to make us turn towards junk food as it is usually richer and provides instant gratification.
And that’s not a good thing for our body.
If you are not eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, it’s going to cause vitamin deficiencies. Not only will it have harmful effects on your health, your hair will suffer too.
To add to the misery, stress also impacts digestion and absorption of nutrients. And as I said earlier, any vitamin deficiencies will hit your hair first. The ‘resources’ will be diverted away from hair to vital areas of the body such as organs.
Using the food philosophy you are what you eat, and your hair is what you eat – try to eat fresh and wholesome foods.
A high level of stress stimulates excess production of androgens (also known as male sex hormone) – which can hinder hair growth.
When we feel very anxious and worried, the brain signals the adrenal glands (located on the top of the kidney) to produce stress hormones. Remember the fight and flight response.
The same adrenal gland also produces androgenic hormones (such as testosterone and its related hormone DHT).
If you tend to get stressed out frequently, the brain will keep on stimulating the adrenals to produce more cortisol as well as androgens.
Too high levels of androgens such as DHT causes hair follicles to become inflamed, which in turn causes the follicles to shrink and hair shaft to weaken. This is what leads to hair thinning. In women, hormones with androgenic activity can cause female pattern baldness.
Sometimes hair loss and stress becomes a vicious cycle. Even after the stressful situation is gone, we may continue to obsess over hair. In a way, hair loss then becomes an anxiety trigger.
I can tell you from my example that when I lived in a constant fear of hair loss, I was actually contributing to my own hair loss. The more I would stress, the more hair would fall. It had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Also, some people with anxiety simply see more hair loss where it doesn’t exist, because of their fear. It’s not uncommon for hair to look exactly the same, but anxiety plays tricks with the mind to make it seem or feel like more fell out than usual.
Here’s the good news….
Stress-related hair loss is usually temporary. If you get your stress under control, your hair will grow back.
Next time, I will bring to you some practical and doable tips to make friends with stress and gain control of your hair.
Note: Hair loss is a normal response to stress. But hair loss can also occur due to vitamin deficiency, medical condition, medicine, and scalp condition. Therefore, it important that you see your doctor rather than self-diagnosing.
Do you get stressed easily? Share in the comment below!