Are you feeling stressed? At this point in human history, we can all agree stress impacts our bodies. Although we might have different responses to stress, each one of us has a somatic (body) stress response. Unfortunately, for some folks, this means losing hair.
Stress-related hair loss is common, but it can be incredibly upsetting. It can happen to women and men, but the reasons for hair loss can differ due to biological and hormonal differences.
Can Stress Cause Hair Loss?
Expected types of hair loss in men are mainly based on genetics, the effects of testosterone, and some autoimmune disorders. Although genetics can play a role, most women experience hair loss due to emotional stress. This loss is generally reversible, but the first step would be to identify the reasons that are causing your distress.
If your hair loss is due to stress, there are some basic steps to take to help manage your negative feelings. Of course, if you think you are losing hair due to a medical condition or illness, please talk with your physician about your concerns and options.
What Causes Hair Loss?
Hair loss due to stress, known as telogen effluvium, occurs when the hair prematurely moves from the growing phase to the resting stage. Excessive stress can cause hair follicles to stop growing and begin to fall out.
When someone experiences a stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one or a breakup, their cortisol levels, a stress hormone, rise, and this can cause unwanted hair loss.
Not surprisingly, to help cope with emotional stress (like relationship problems, financial difficulties, and work-related stress), some people turn to unhealthy habits like overeating, smoking, and drinking. While you might feel temporarily better, unhealthy habits only add to the overall stress load that affects your hair health.
Hair Loss in Women
Let’s face it: no one likes seeing their hair fall out, but hair loss due to high stress levels seems to be a bit more traumatizing for women than men.
If you are experiencing stress-related hair loss, don’t be shocked if you suddenly start finding hair in the oddest places! Caught in your watch band, strangely woven in your car’s air vents, laying on the stove. These slight strings of your follicle DNA quietly pop up to remind you your body is being hammered by stress.
When you see stray hair, you immediately battle emotions of fear about losing more hair. It is a vicious cycle that only fuels the internal blaze of stress and frustration over knowing your hair is falling out.
Hair Loss Causes
The reality is most hair loss is stress-related. Major stressors, such as divorce, financial loss, and emotional upheaval, can significantly impact our bodies and overall health. However, minor inconveniences or mishaps, like burning your dinner or getting the wrong drink at Starbucks, won’t cause your hair to fall out. Even if several minor stressors happen in one day, the primary cause of hair loss is ongoing significant emotional stress.
Each of us responds to stress in our own unique way. Even positive stressors, like getting married for a second time or moving to a new house, can be identified as distress by our bodies. Our bodies accumulate tension around these events, focusing on the stress-inducing aspects even when they’re positive. That’s why positive events can be just as stressful as adverse events on psychological stress scales. While our mind might be thrilled about an upcoming vacation, our body registers it as stress.
Hair Loss Due to Medical Conditions
While this article focuses on hair loss due to stress, it’s essential to know certain medical conditions are also linked to hair loss for both men and women.
Most of these illnesses are related to autoimmune disorders. Medical conditions like hypothyroidism, Alopecia areata, and lupus can all be the cause of hair loss. If you suspect your hair loss results from something other than stress, please make an appointment with your physician.
Hormones Can Affect Hair Loss
Hormonal reasons are another significant factor in women’s hair loss. Women’s hormones fluctuate during pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause, and it can cause hair loss. When women experience hormonal changes, it affects the balance of hair follicles and can cause them to fall out. Declining levels of estrogen can contribute to hair shedding.
If you happen to be a midlife woman, it’s vital to remember hormones are like a roller coaster. So, if you are experiencing hair loss unrelated to intense stress, talk to your doctor about getting a blood panel done to determine your hormone levels.
One of the frustrating symptoms of perimenopause and menopause for some women is hair loss. Sharing your concerns about your hair with your doctor might be enough to help you begin solving the mystery of the disappearing follicles.
Hair Loss Due to Medical Treatment
Chemotherapy treatment is another type of stress that leads to hair loss due to a hormone imbalance when the body tries to recover. The medications used to treat cancer affect the hair follicles and cause hair loss. However, once the treatment ends, the hair generally grows back.
It’s essential to acknowledge hair loss, whether stress-related or from an ongoing medical issue, is upsetting. Combating negative feelings and doomsday-type thoughts is key to feeling more balanced and hopeful.
Managing Your Stress Helps Stop Hair Loss
For most cases of hair loss from stress, the frustrating reality is you need to wait it out. Research shows your body will rebound, and your hair will return.
The truth is your hair stopped growing when the stress began, so the hair you see falling out today has been dead for a while. While it might not seem like it, you are most likely in the middle of the hair growth cycle, even though your hair is falling out.
A positive sign of regrowth is the presence of “baby hairs,” those tiny strands that stick out from your scalp, especially around the part in your hairstyle. It may seem like breakage, but hairstylists will tell you they’re new hairs growing to replace what was lost.
Significant Emotional Stress Can Cause Hair Loss
Anxiety and depression, especially when experienced over long periods, are common types of stressors that cause hair loss. High levels of anxiety increase the amount of cortisol the body produces, leading to inflammation that can affect the hair follicles.
Stress-related depression and anxiety can cause people to withdraw from enjoyable activities and relationships. During times of high stress, our nutrition often gets unbalanced as we reach for foods high in sugar or salt.
Inadequate nutrition, emotional upheaval, and focused stress compound the impact of negative tension within the body. Excessive drinking or smoking increases stress-related hair loss. A lack of proper nutrition and mental health support, combined with relentless stress, can cause hair follicles to break and fall out.
Our relationships are a regular source of positive energy and happy emotions for many of us. But sometimes, our most important relationships can harm our stress levels. Things like children leaving home, having parents move in with you, or going through a tough marriage time can all impact your hair’s health.
Most people would rather go at it alone in tough times than seek help. Americans, in general, have been raised to highly value independence, including our emotional health. Isolating ourselves and ignoring our emotional distress creates a negative impact on our physical health.
Research shows for women going through a divorce, the second highest predictor of hair loss is marital status. According to a health study, the loss of a spouse, through divorce or death, raises the risk of thinning hair above that of married or single women.
Tips to Manage Stress and Hair Loss
At the risk of sounding repetitive, managing your stress is vital to help with hair loss! Try the following ideas for inexpensive and effective ways to give your body the support it needs during emotional difficulty.
Exercise Regularly: Exercising regularly is one of the best ways to manage emotional stress. Working out helps release endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones. It also helps to clear your mind and give you a sense of accomplishment. Even a few minutes of exercise daily can make a big difference in how you feel emotionally.
Get Enough Sleep: When we don’t get enough sleep, our bodies become fatigued, making it harder to think clearly and stay focused. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night to ensure your body and mind have enough time to rest and recharge.
Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in the present moment without judgment or attachment to them. Practicing mindfulness can help you become more aware of how you’re feeling emotionally so you can manage your stress in healthier ways.
Take Time For Yourself: We must make time each day to do something we enjoy. When we choose to relax, we signal to our brain to take a break from worries. Whether reading a book, listening to music, taking a hot bath, or walking outside – find something that works for you!
Practice Positive Self-Talk: Negative self-talk can be incredibly damaging when managing emotional stress; instead, try practicing positive self-talk by recognizing your strengths and accomplishments rather than focusing on what’s wrong. Let go of beating yourself up over mistakes made in the past or present moment.
The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
Stress is a significant factor in hair loss for everyone, especially middle-aged women. Emotional stress and hormonal imbalance are common culprits that can lead to a substantial amount of hair loss.
The good news is once the stress levels are under control, hair usually grows back. It will take a few months, but you should quickly see new hair growth. Practicing proper nutrition, only taking necessary medications, and practicing self-care will help prevent hair follicle stress.
Staying calm, reducing stress, and listening to your body is essential. If you notice significant hair loss, approaching a healthcare professional can help determine the underlying cause and suggest the best treatment plan.
Remember, your mental health is just as crucial as your physical health. With patience and encouragement, almost everyone can learn to manage their stress, resulting in restored hair growth over time.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.