Avacor® Hair Regrowth Blog

Stress and Hair Loss

In general, people are stressed.  We stress about work, we stress about relationships, we stress about money, we stress about family and friends and traffic and long lines at the grocery store.  We stress about getting married, having kids, and the importance of a proper work-life balance.

Photo from Synchealth.com

We stress about what to make for dinner.  Stress is a part of daily life for nearly everyone. Many media sources do their best to remind us that stress is bad for our health and could lead to premature signs of aging, increased risk of disease, and an untimely demise.  Not to mention wrinkles and thinning hair.

Wait – Thinning Hair? Can Stress Really Do That?

In a word, yes.  In a few more words, it’s not that simple.  There is an important distinction between emotional stress and physiological stress.  Working against an unexpected deadline at work, fighting with a friend or family member, and having to stand in line at the grocery store can cause you stress, but these are relatively short-lived emotional stressors.  Bigger stressors, such as the stress of getting married, having a child, losing a loved one, losing or gaining a large amount of weight, living in an abusive situation, or getting divorced can cause deeper physiological stress on your body, which can manifest in poor health and impact your body – including your hormones, mental functioning, skin, nails, and hair.  There is indeed some truth to the belief that stress can cause hair loss.

Hair loss can often be a consequence of excessive physiological stress, which can be brought on by a variety of sources, such as:

  • Crash diets and malnutrition
  • Chronic stress
  • Eating disorders
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Rapid weight gain or loss
  • Starting or stopping a medication
  • Surgery, illness (especially with a high fever), or injury

Note that these aren’t the small-picture emotional stressors of daily life, like running late or waiting in a long line.  Physiological stressors have a deeper reach and impact on your health.

When stress-related hair loss strikes, it isn't necessarily permanent.  Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin purports that there are three types of hair loss typically associated with high levels of physiological stress: Alopecia areata, Telogen effluvium, and Trichotillomania.

Alopecia areata is a condition in which the white blood cells, or leukocytes, of the body’s immune system attack the body’s hair follicles, leading to bald spots on the scalp.  Alopecia totalis is hair loss of this type on the entirety of the scalp, and Alopecia universalis is the autoimmune loss of hair from the entire body.

Telogen effluvium refers to the telogen phase, also called the resting phase, of the hair follicle.  Severe stress can interrupt the hair’s growth cycle and cause mass shedding of hairs that have entered the telogen phase.

According to a featured article on medical website WebMD, the average head has 120,000 to 150,000 strands of hair, around 100 of which are naturally shed every day.  Approximately 90% of hairs growing on your head are in a growing phase for two to three years at a time before entering the resting (telogen) stage for up to four months before falling out so a new hair can replace it.  Telogen effluvium occurs when a physiological stressor interrupts the hair’s natural schedule, causing a large amount of hairs to rest at once, which then fall out three to four months later according to the hair cycle’s regular schedule.  This type of hair loss will correct itself provided the stressor causing the effect is removed.

Trichotillomania, or trichotillosis, is an impulse control disorder characterized by the uncontrollable urge to pull out one’s own hair, from the scalp, face, or other areas.  In many cases, trichotillomania is triggered by stress or depression.  Trichotillomania in young adults and adults can be treated with behavior therapy, psychiatric intervention, and medication if needed.  Often the hair-pulling behavior ceases when other underlying issues are treated.

Besides these three conditions that cause hair loss, your body may simply be taking a break from hair growth.  It is not uncommon to experience hair loss after a major surgery, recovery from an illness or high fever, or childbirth – because your body is paying more attention to your recovery from the medical trauma instead of growing your hair.  Since hair is not necessary to survival, the body may shut down hair production in times of excessive stress.  Though this is normal, it may still be beneficial to check with your doctor to rule out any other causes of hair loss that might be medically relevant.

Many women experiencing postpartum hair loss, and others experiencing temporary hair loss, benefit from some cosmetic styling tips to reduce the appearance of thinning hair.  Headbands and scarves can camouflage thinning hair, as can changing your style and switching to a side-part or using volumizing mousse to add fullness and texture.  The appearance of thinning hair can be hidden with a new haircut that focuses on volume and fullness to your hairstyle.

While some hair loss may be unavoidable as the body’s response to serious physiological stress, you can take steps to reduce the impact stress has on your life.  The following tips can help you manage your overall stress so that big events don’t have such a profound effect on your body.

Take care of your physical needs

  • Sleep: Lack of sleep leads to fatigue and increased stress levels.  Getting a full night’s sleep on a regular basis will help prevent and manage stress.
  • Eat: Eat a healthy, balanced diet.  Don’t skip breakfast, and make sure you are getting all the necessary nutrients you need, from whole foods and vitamin supplements if needed.  Avoid refined sugars and excess caffeine, which can disturb your sleep patterns.
  • Move: Regular exercise helps to reduce the effects of stress on the body and will help you feel more healthy.   Aim for thirty minutes each day; even exercise as simple as walking will make an impact on your health and stress levels.
  • Avoid toxins: Don’t overindulge in toxic substances like alcohol, cigarettes, and other drugs.  Taking care of your body with a balanced diet, exercise, and adequate sleep will do a better job of reducing stress levels in the long-term than drinking or smoking.
  • Know your warning signs: Knowing the small signs of stress, such as migraine headaches, restless sleep, or fluctuations in appetite, can give you a clue that it might be a good idea to check in with your doctor or take steps to improve your stress reduction techniques.

Take care of your emotional needs

  • Relax: Set aside regular time every day to focus on yourself and not worry about outside worries.  Whether this is part of your daily walk, shower, or bedtime ritual, it is important to spend time relaxing and focusing on your own needs.  This will help you stay in touch with yourself in regard to the stressors in your life.
  • Have fun: Incorporate your hobbies and favorite leisuretime activities into your regular schedule.  A major cause of chronic stress that can take a toll on your body is feeling like you are overwhelmed with obligations.  Taking time to do something you enjoy will help you stay connected to your own needs.
  • Talk about it: Identify people in your social circle, like a friend, relative, or coworker, who is able to listen to you when you need to talk about stress.  Having someone to talk to about your stress can help manage it so it doesn’t get out of hand and negatively affect your health.

Reduce stressors

  • Say no: If you are overwhelmed with obligations and commitments, turn some down to reclaim some of your time and energy for yourself.
  • Manage time: If your to-do list gets out of hand, devise a new time management strategy that can improve your efficiency and help you keep better track of your commitments.  Often, this small bit of organization can go a long way to managing daily stress levels.
  • Cut ties: If people in your life are detracting value or adding stress, take a break from them, or remove them from your life entirely.
  • Avoid triggers: If you know that a certain topic or activity triggers stress or anxiety, whether it is talking about politics or playing cards, do your best to avoid that particular activity in order to reduce the stress that is attached to it.

Stress happens to everyone, every day.  The difference between each person is how they manage the stressors in their life.  Stress and its physiological manifestations can often be a circular problem: excessive worry and stress may cause you to pay less attention to your diet, which may lead to nutrient deficiency, which leads to stress, which can manifest in poor sleep or exercise habits, creating more and more stress until you want to pull your hair out – or your body does it for you.  Take control of your stress before it controls you, and you will be much better prepared to handle the profound stresses life brings your way.

Written by Caitlin - Follow Caitlin on

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