We’ve all heard or used the phrase, “I wanted to pull my hair out,” referring to being in a stressful situation. While this phrase is somewhat overdramatic and just a figure of speech in most cases, there is something to be said about the link between stress and hair loss.
Stress is a common cause of hair loss in both men and women, but it’s usually triggered internally. If you suffer from severe or chronic stress, there’s a chance that you may trigger a physiological response that leads to hair loss.
The link between stress and hair loss
The main cause of stress-related hair loss is a condition called telogen effluvium. This is a temporary condition that causes hair to fall out prematurely.
When telogen effluvium occurs, the natural cycle of healthy hair growth is disrupted, causing lots of hair to enter the resting stage too early and fall out a month or two later. This disruption is a result of hormonal shifts within the body, often caused by a “shock” to the system—extreme stress or trauma. While the condition is more common in cases of severe traumas, it can also be brought about by chronic stress, as well as illnesses.
For this reason, prolonged periods of stress can keep hair in its shocked state and continue the cycle of hair loss, potentially becoming more and more noticeable if it persists for long enough.
You may notice the hair loss when you wash or brush your hair and strands come out in clumps, or there might be a pile of hair on your pillow after you wake up. The frustrating part about telogen effluvium is that discovering your sudden hair loss can cause even more anxiety or stress, leading to a vicious cycle.
Thankfully, telogen effluvium has a cure: stress relief. Telogen effluvium is a temporary condition, which means that normal, healthy hair can grow after the condition is alleviated. Once the stress that triggered telogen effluvium is resolved, hair should begin to grow back and resume its normal hair growth cycle.
To prevent or stop stress-induced hair loss, your goal should be to reduce stress levels. There are many ways to do this, such as eliminating a major source of stress, exercising more, eating healthily, sleeping enough each night, taking up a relaxing hobby, meditating or seeing a therapist.
Additional stress-related hair problems
Although telogen effluvium is the most common cause of stress-related hair loss, there are other conditions that may cause hair loss or damage, as well.
One such condition is called trichotillomania, a disorder that causes an irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows and even other body parts. It is believed that trichotillomania can begin as a method of coping with stress, frustration or anxiety. There is no cure for the condition, but it can be managed over time to reduce the amount of hair pulling one does.
An autoimmune disease called alopecia areata can also cause hair loss through bodily reactions to stress. Severe bouts of stress, as well as other triggers, may cause your immune system to begin attacking your hair follicles, which can result in hair loss. Hair may begin to grow back and fall out again over time.
Finally, stress may cause hair problems that aren’t related to the conditions above. Stress is known to affect the entire body in different ways. When you’re severely stressed, you may not be able to sleep properly, you may neglect personal hygiene and other habits, and you may stop eating a healthy diet and drinking water.
These sorts of things can take a toll on your hair. They may not necessarily cause hair loss, but a diet filled with junk food and dehydration can lead to dull, brittle hair that’s more susceptible to breakage or split ends. Not washing your hair can lead to scalp issues that make you feel itchy and can affect the strength of your hair.
Taking time to relieve your stress and simultaneously take care of your body and your hair can help prevent stress-related hair loss, as well as the many other negative side effects of stress.
If you’ve successfully gotten a handle on your stress but are still seeing consistent hair loss, speak with your doctor about other potential causes of hair loss that might be affecting you. It’s possible that your hair is still in the resting stage and needs to re-enter the normal growth cycle, or you may have another hair loss condition you are unaware of.