For all the environmental toxins the human race has litigated, legislated, and regulated into livable standards, the prevalence of stress-related hair loss shows that we give anxiety a bit of a pass. Despite the fact that it can be powerful enough to mimic radiation poisoning’s effect on the scalp; stress is a necessary evil in our lives. It’s the accepted emotional tax tacked on to having cool phones, TVs, and cars. Still, hair loss from stress should be taken like one of those get-ahold-of-yourself slaps from the movies. It’s a chance to wake up and make the changes needed to not just regrow your hair, but improve your life overall. First, you’ll need to determine whether stress is really the cause of your hair loss.
How severe does stress need to be to induce hair loss?
Stress-related hair loss only happens when stress is severe, and it’s far from being the most common cause of hair loss. Hair fall can occur either after a sudden traumatic shock, or following prolonged exposure. Unfortunately, the symptoms can be ambiguous. Hair loss from stress doesn’t always show with glaring bald spots. Sometimes it presents itself as widespread thinning that mimics male pattern baldness.
The most common type of stress-induced hair loss is Telogen Effluvium
Each hair follicle goes through a typical life cycle broken up into growth and resting phases. For two or more years at a time, they produce hair before “resting” for a few months. In a healthy scalp, 80-90% of all follicles are producing hair at any given moment. This healthy state is known as anagen effluvium.
For those experiencing stress-related hair loss, the follicles retreat into an extended resting phase called Telogen Effluvium. The effects depend largely on the individual’s scalp and stressors. For example, Telogen Effluvium can take place after a sudden traumatic shock, with shedding occurring several months after the event. In the cases of persistent stress and anxiety, large portions of the scalp will rest until the underlying issue is resolved. The good news is that Telogen Effluvium is generally reversible.
Less common stress-induced hair loss: alopecia areata and trichotillomania
In extreme, and thankfully rare cases, stress can manifest as alopecia areata or trichotillomania, according to the Mayo Clinic. Though vastly different in how they cause hair loss, both may be signs of severe stress and anxiety that need the attention of a medical professional.
Alopecia areata is thought to be an autoimmune disorder, causing a body’s immune system to attack its own hair follicles. The results range from quarter-sized bald patches to loss of all body hair. While still a bit of a stumper for the medical community, it’s believed that severe stress, as well as genetic and environmental factors, are the culprits.
Trichotillomania, on the other hand, is a mental disorder that results in an irresistible compulsion to pull out your own hair, whether from the head, eyebrows, eyelids, or other areas.
Hair loss can also lead to increased stress
The kicker in all of this? Hair loss itself has been found to be stressful enough to affect feelings of self worth and confidence. In other words, the symptom can also be the cause, trapping many in a downward spiral of hair loss, and even leading to depression. Fortunately, Telogen Effluvium, the most common stress-related condition for hair loss, is usually reversible once the stressor is resolved.
As for those looking for a scalp-half-full view of alopecia areata, the good news is that there’s a chance your hair will grow back. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell if, much less when that may happen, warns the cheerily named National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Don’t automatically assume your hair loss is stress related
While experiencing hair loss from stress is a relatively common phenomenon, it’s just one of several factors that could be figuring into your failing follicles. The American Academy of Dermatology listed a handful of them, including diet, age, recent surgeries, and medications. The biggest lesson here is that it’s important not to jump to any conclusions, especially when doing so could make your problems worse. Instead, take stock of the other possible causes and make sure you’re not missing something obvious. Here’s an article on causes of men’s hair loss and here’s one on causes for women.
If your hair loss is stress-related, it’s time to make some changes
The point isn’t to figure out how much stress your body can take before it breaks down, but rather how to minimize your exposure to it in the first place, through natural methods like planning for obstacles, learning relaxation techniques, and changing your diet.
While it isn’t realistic to think you can cut stress out of your life completely, there are proven ways to make it more manageable. A holistic approach to your stress relief means eating well, laughing with friends, expressing gratitude, talking when you need to, and other ways of healing stress from the inside out.