Who hasn’t had their fair share of stress recently? Sleepless nights, tight shoulders, headaches, lower energy levels, unwanted weight gain and brain fog—stress can do all of that and more
While stress can impact your health and well-being in myriad ways, it can also have very real impacts on your follicles. Read on to learn how stress is connected to hair loss and find tips to relieve stress so you can get back to glorious hair wellness ASAP.
The Connection Between Stress and Hair Loss
Stress affects our bodies on a daily basis, but not all stress is created equal. It's commonly broken down into acute (short-term) and chronic (prolonged) stress. Think of acute stress as a specific stressful incident: a car accident, an argument with a friend or even a case of COVID-19. Chronic stress is consistent and continuous, often stemming from an accumulation of micro-stressors. Chronic stress might look like overwhelm from the day-to-day demands of work and family, relationship difficulties, or even a case of long COVID, complications from COVID, or general pressure associated with the ongoing pandemic.
In combination, experiences of acute and chronic stress can have a direct impact on your body—and your hair follicles. “When your stress response ramps up, the body produces cortisol,” Dr. Kelly Carter, emergency physician and coach at WanderFonder Health & Wellness, told VEGAMOUR.
Cortisol—commonly known as the "stress hormone"—might sound like something to avoid altogether, but it’s actually an important part of normal metabolism and immune function. When cortisol levels are dysregulated, though, problems start to occur.
The very nature of our stress response is to protect the body, which has been quite useful to our evolution. Our “fight-or-flight” response still serves us well when we’re faced with emergency situations or extreme stress that require fast, decisive action. But ongoing activation of the fight-or-flight response when it's not truly needed can have negative consequences for your health—and your hair.
Stress can divert resources away from other bodily functions that aren’t imperative to basic survival. That includes things like hair growth.
“[When faced with stress,] hair is the first thing to go, because it’s nonessential,” said Dan Hodgdon, CEO of VEGAMOUR. “[Your] body sends signals to stop sending nutrients to the follicles because it needs to focus on your immune system, your circulatory system and all the other things that are essential to survival.”
In that respect, Hodgdon says, “Thinning hair is like an early warning alert system for your health.”
High stress levels can exacerbate existing hair thinning or shedding that might be a result of one's genetic predisposition (as in the case of androgenetic alopecia), nutritional deficiencies or other medical conditions.
But stress itself can also be the driver of hair shedding. There are three types of hair loss that are closely linked to acute and chronic stress: telogen effluvium, alopecia areata and trichotillomania.
Perhaps the most common type of hair loss related to stress is telogen effluvium (or TE). TE is a sudden and diffuse thinning over the entire scalp, typically triggered by a specific incident or stressor, either emotional or physical.
Triggers for TE could look like the significant emotional stress associated with a divorce, the physical experience of childbirth, surgery, medication changes or even illness. It probably comes as no surprise that COVID-19 has been associated with a notable spike in telogen effluvium hair loss cases, particularly among women.
Regardless of the cause, the resulting severe stress triggers a disruption to the normal hair growth cycle, causing hair follicles to move from the active growth phase (also known as the anagen phase) into the resting phase (or the telogen phase). This resting period lasts for about three months, which is why excess hair shedding typically crops up a few months after the triggering event.
“The good news is that when you improve your stress levels and reduce these cortisol levels, these hair follicles will turn back on and your hair will grow back within 6-9 months,” said Dr. Carter.
Let’s Talk TE: Telogen Effluvium Hair Loss Explained
Alopecia areata (AA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, resulting in patchy hair loss. With AA, typical hair loss presents as round, coin-sized bald patches on the scalp, but hair loss can occur on other parts of the body as well.
AA hair loss can be cyclical, with hair growing back and falling out repeatedly. And while it often resolves on its own over time, AA can also progress into more severe conditions, like alopecia totalis (full hair loss on the head) and alopecia universalis (full-body hair loss).
Further research is needed to draw definitive conclusions, but it has long been speculated that a given traumatic or stressful event could trigger the development of AA.
Get the Full Picture: Alopecia Areata, Explained
Trichotillomania (TTM), also known as hair-pulling disorder and colloquially referred to as “trich,” is a mental disorder characterized by a compulsive impulse to pull out scalp hair, eyelashes, eyebrows or hair from any other part of the body. Trich can be "focused," meaning that hair-pulling is intentionally done to relieve an irresistible urge, or "automatic," meaning it is done unconsciously, when the hair-puller is focused on other tasks like work or driving, or even when bored or distracted.
Trich can develop as a way to deal with negative or uncomfortable feelings like stress, tension, loneliness, boredom or frustration and is a long-term, chronic condition that is often lifelong and difficult to overcome. Partially because of stigma and lack of awareness, patients report feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Furthermore, hair loss may become noticeable, which can cause further distress and perpetuate the cycle.
Read the Hair Story: Living with Trichotillomania
How to Regain Hair Loss Caused By Stress
Since stress comes in so many forms—and impact our health and our hair follicles in so many ways—it’s important to use a holistic approach to manage stress and stress-induced hair loss.
Rather than thinking of stress as something you have to completely eliminate from your life, view it as something you can build resilience around and learn to manage as a part of your life that you can control. The best approaches to managing stress involve building up a toolkit of strategies and skills to strengthen your resilience and help you cope in a healthy way with any stress that comes your way (hair, body and mind alike).
See a Doctor
First things first: If you’re noticing excessive hair loss, consult with your primary care doctor or a dermatologist. It’s actually normal to lose about 100-200 hairs per day (this helpful visual shows you what that looks like), but if you’re noticing more than that, it’s time to speak to a professional.
A doctor will help you identify potential causes of hair loss, such as hormone imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, high blood pressure or a receding hairline caused by androgenetic alopecia (also known as female- or male-pattern baldness). In virtually all cases of hair loss, it’s best to start treatment sooner rather than later to help prevent further hair loss.
Dr. Yu Weighs In: 5 Signs You’re Experiencing Stress-Related Hair Loss
Focus on Diet & Nutrition
A balanced diet and adequate nutrition is tantamount to good health, including the healthy functioning of hair follicles. Nutritional deficiencies resulting from by poor eating or crash dieting have been shown to directly impact hair regrowth, so prioritizing healthy eating is an easy way to support your body.
Plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and sufficient protein are all staples of a healthy diet and provide the vitamins and minerals needed to support hair growth. If you have a nutritional deficiency or are struggling to get proper nutrition through food alone, you can incorporate nutritional supplements for a boost.
VEGAMOUR's GRO+ Advanced Gummies are carefully formulated hair supplements that provide the nutrients your body uses for new hair growth, including biotin, vitamins D, C, A, E and B12 and zinc (among others). The GRO+ Advanced product line can also help combat significant stress, since it includes soothing and balancing full-spectrum hemp cannabidiol (CBD) as an added stress-buster.
Exercise offers a two-pronged opportunity to promote hair growth. First, regular exercise and cardio can help improve circulation, delivering more oxygen to the body and making more nutrients available to the hair follicle. Meanwhile, calming exercise practices like yoga can help naturally reduce cortisol levels. Avoid overexercising, though, as it can lead to further hair loss.
Get Good Sleep
Our body does much of its maintenance and repairs while we sleep. As a result, adequate sleep can impact our experience of stress and our body's ability to heal from it. “Stress can interfere with your sleep patterns, so making sure you get eight hours of restful sleep each night can help reduce the amount of stress your body feels on a daily basis,” suggested Khamis Maiouf, barber and founder of the blog Book of Barbering.
Don’t Sleep On This: How Loss of Sleep & Hair Loss Are Connected
Practice Mindfulness & Meditation
"Mindfulness" refers to a practice of grounding oneself in the present moment. It includes a variety of relaxation techniques, from observing one’s thoughts to journaling to a daily gratitude practice and more. Mindfulness-based meditation practices have been shown to help reduce cortisol levels while also building up resilience to external stressors.
Spend Time Outdoors
As simple as it might seem, fresh air and sunshine are good for your health! Studies have indicated that spending time outdoors can help lower your cortisol for a quick reset. (Bonus points if you bring a pet with you!)
Soak It Up: What Is Forest Bathing?
Assess Your Hair Care Products
When addressing stress related to hair loss, it's important to take a good look at the stuff you're putting directly in your hair and on your scalp. Many hair care products—even if they're advertised as "hair healthy," may contain harsh synthetic fragrances, allergens or other potentially damaging chemical ingredients that could be hampering your efforts to grow luscious, healthy hair.
All of VEGAMOUR’s hair care products are formulated with optimal hair health in mind, and every single one is all-natural, vegan and cruelty-free. From the tips of your strands to the balance of your follicular ecosystem, we’ve got you covered when it comes to hair wellness. One case in point: Our bestselling GRO+ Advanced Hair Serum, which can help create thicker and fuller looking hair in just three months.
Thanks, But No Thanks: 9 Shampoo Ingredients to Avoid
Especially when recovering from stress-related hair loss, avoid aggressive hairdos and other hair routines, which put unnecessary additional stress on your follicles. Tight ponytails and buns, braids, weaves or other hairdos are a no-go—they create repetitive stress by pulling on your follicles. Avoid heat styling and chemical treatments whenever possible. Finally, to really pamper your follicles and tresses, add super-soft scrunchies and silky, tension reducing-pillowcases to the mix.
When it comes to managing stress-related hair loss, patience is key—especially since stressing about it can lead to even more hair loss! Hair grows slowly—about half an inch per month—so it might be several months before new hair comes in. So just breathe, invest in managing your stress and caring for your overall health, and give your hair follicles the opportunity to flourish.
Stress can impact your hair health in a variety of ways, and a holistic approach the best way to effectively manage and reduce stress and its impact on you and your hair. Thankfully, there are a variety of easy tools you can use to reduce stress and support your hair follicles: exercise, healthy eating, gentle hair care practices and products that support hair wellness. In combination with proper health care, you can learn to confront your stress head-on and create an environment for yourself that supports a head full of healthy hair.
More From VEGAMOUR
- Stress, COVID & Birth Control: How My Hair Started Thinning at 23
- Can Dieting Cause Hair Loss?
- How a Random Act of Kindness Can Reduce Stress
- Dr. Clara Yu Busts 5 Myths About Female Hair Loss
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