By Jacqueline Samaroo
Does your hair seem to be thinning? Have you been noticing an increase in the number of strands you shed daily? These could be signs of stress-induced hair loss. Whoa! We know, you’re thinking “Really, can stress cause hair loss AND will it grow back?!”
Read on as we explore the connection between stress and hair loss. This article looks at:
- Three types of hair loss linked to stress (Yes, three!) and the mechanisms behind hair growth, hair loss, and stress. (We’ll keep it simple.)
- Is stress hair loss reversible? (We won’t let you sweat this one out – yes, it is reversible BUT it takes time – we’ll explain.)
- Five ways to keep stress at bay (and keep your lovely head of hair).
Before we dive into stress and hair loss, let’s start off with a quick overview of stress and its effects.
How Stress Affects the Body
Stress is the way our bodies respond to change. Those changes, or stressors, cause our bodies to respond in physical, emotional, intellectual, and behavioral ways. The upside is that stress can cause us to take necessary actions as we develop coping mechanisms – ways to deal with the stressors.
What’s the downside? The ill-effects of stress are often seen when we experience prolonged, or chronic, stress. Having to deal with reoccurring stress literally wears you down over time.
Apart from hair loss, other signs of chronic stress include:
- High blood pressure
- Aches and pains
- Digestive problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Muscle tension
- Panic attacks
- Weakened immune system
Stress and Hair loss: Three Types of Hair Loss Linked to Stress
Long-term, high levels of stress is connected to three types of hair loss.
1. Telogen effluvium
Hair growth takes place in a cycle with three distinct stages. A disruption in any of the stages can lead to a disorder in the way the hair grows and the rate at which it is shed. The stages of hair growth are:
- The anagen phase, or growing phase, lasting anywhere from two to seven years. During this time the hair grows at a rate of about half an inch per month.
- The catagen phase, or transitional phase, occurs over a two-week period. During this phase, the hair follicle shrinks and the hair gets cut off from its supply of nutrients.
- The telogen phase, also known as the resting phase or shedding phase, lasts for about three months.
A fourth term, exogen phase, is used for the actual shedding of the hair from the hair follicle as new hair begins to grow. It marks both the end of the telogen phase and the beginning of the anagen phase, starting over the hair growth cycle.
On average, there are about 100,000 strands of hair on the human head. At any given time about 15% of those hairs are in the telogen phase with about 100 hairs shedding each day. Telogen effluvium occurs when an unusually high percentage of hairs enter the telogen phase and are shed without regrowth of new hair.
Causes of telogen effluvium include poor nutrition, changes in hormonal levels, aging, genetics, and chronic stress. During chronic stress, our bodies are exposed to high levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, for prolonged periods of time.
Researchers from Harvard University, with support from the NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), have been able to pinpoint the stress and hair loss link as resulting from the stress hormone. Their findings show an extended telogen phase due to stress.
2. Alopecia areata
Alopecia areata is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. In autoimmune disorders, the body’s immune system malfunctions and begins to attack the body’s own cells. Alopecia areata is often described as an immune system attack on the growing cells of hair follicles.
Alopecia areata can cause thinning of body hair, including the hair on your head. More often, however, it is seen as loss of hair in coin-sized patches, leaving these areas bald. In the most extreme cases, it can cause complete hair loss all over the body.
Ever been so stressed or frustrated you felt like pulling out your hair? Chances are you actually didn’t. But for some people, affected by trichotillomania, hair pulling as a stress response is a very real thing.
Also known as compulsive hair pulling disorder, it affects roughly 4% of people with women being up to 10 times more likely to display the behavior. Persons with trichotillomania tend to also suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and compulsive-obsessive disorder.
Stress and Hair loss: Is Stress Hair Loss Reversible?
Yes, stress hair loss is, in most instances, reversible. That is, the hair loss is temporary and the hair grows back. However, the hair loss can occur in cycles with the affected person experiencing periods of excessive hair loss, regrowth, then the return of excessive hair loss.
Other things to keep in mind
- Stress-induced hair loss is usually seen about three months after the stressful event that leads to it. This also means you’ll have to wait a few months for the stress effects to wear off and for you to begin seeing regrowth of hair. So, patience is necessary.
- While the hair loss is sudden and excessive, regrowth is much slower. Earlier, we mentioned half an inch per month as the average hair growth rate. Your hair growth may actually be as little as a quarter of an inch per month. So, patience is REALLY necessary.
- There are both prescription and OTC medications that can encourage regrowth of lost hair. Ask your doctor about them if you have any concerns about your hair loss.
- You can encourage regrowth of strong, healthy hair by nourishing your follicles from the inside and outside. We have some useful links for you at the end of the article!
Check out our articles on foods and vitamins for hair growth.
Also, see our series on hair butter for hair growth.
Stress and Hair loss: Five Ways to Reduce and Prevent Stress
1. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and yoga are proven ways to practice relaxation. And, CurlyNikki.com can help. Join Nikki each weekday morning as she helps you get the day off to a bright, loving, and relaxing start. Check out Go(o)d Mornings with Curly Nikki!
2. Regular exercise is well known to both prevent and reduce stress. Exercise leads to the release of “feel good” hormones (kinda the opposite of those stress hormones!). You get a lift in your mood and know you’re making your body healthier, too.
3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes the nutrients needed for general health as well as for hair health. Your diet and your body’s ability to cope with stress are closely related. If you feel you may be lacking in a particular nutrient, talk with your doctor about whether a multivitamin might help.
4. Surround yourself with a strong support system of family and friends. Social interaction is very important to us as humans. Your support system can provide emotional support in times of stress. Plus, you get a self-confidence and self-esteem boost from knowing you are a part of someone else’s support system, too.
5. Talk with a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist about your stress. They can help figure out what your stressors are and help you resolve troubling issues. They can also help you to practice behavior modification techniques as one way to cope with your stressors.
So, there you have it. Our answer to “Can stress cause hair loss AND will it grow back?” A resounding “Yes!” to both. However, your best move is to keep stress reduction in mind at all times by using the suggestions we have covered.
Have you ever endured stress-induced hair loss? Care to share what the experience was like? How did you deal with it?