You’ve probably heard phrases like, “making my hair fall out” or “I had hair before my kids,” but is there any truth to them? Can stress cause hair loss?
Long-term stress, often called chronic stress, can make you vulnerable to a wide range of issues like anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, and—of course—hair loss. So, yes, managing the day-to-day struggles of raising children or the intense rigors of a career can cause your hair to literally fall out.
We’ve known about the link between stress and hair loss for many years, but the reasons behind the connection weren’t well understood. In the last several years, many researchers have discovered mechanisms that link the two issues together, which allows us to better understand and treat both stress and stress-related hair loss.
In this article, we’ll dive into exactly what stress-induced hair loss looks like, how it can affect your mental health, and how you can treat it.
The Types of Stress-Based Hair Loss
You might be aware of one form of hair loss that has ties to high stress levels: telogen effluvium. This is the most common form of hair loss when you’re under a lot of stress. Essentially, stress hormones push massive numbers of hair follicles into their resting phase. Within a few months, these hairs fall out naturally while you’re combing or washing your hair.
The other two forms of stress-based hair loss are trichotillomania and alopecia areata. Trichotillomania describes an irresistible urge to pull the hair out from your scalp, eyebrows, or any other area of your body. For some people, this is a way to deal with extreme sensations like stress.
Alopecia areata is a less understood form of hair loss, though experts have observed links between it and stress. With alopecia areata, the body’s immune system will attack its own hair follicles, leading to hair loss.
Signs of Hair Loss
Generally, we don’t always know when we’re feeling stress, especially if we’re used to dealing with it. Because of this and the potential delay in the actual shedding of hair, it can feel like the stress hair loss appears out of nowhere. However, each form has a few key signs that make it clear that they stem from stress.
Natural hair loss occurs over the years and often begins in specific patterns, such as male or female pattern hair loss. However, telogen effluvium typically involves a significant amount of hair falling out suddenly while brushing or washing hair, rather than a gradual amount of hair loss over time. This usually happens a few months after an extremely stressful event, such as pregnancy.
Alopecia areata has a very unique pattern of hair loss. This condition is also known as spot baldness because it causes several clear spots of hair loss, each about the size of a coin. Alopecia areata hair loss can occur on the scalp or elsewhere on the body. There have been cases of complete hair loss, even on the body.
Trichotillomania is often a subconscious behavior, happening without you realizing it. However, it does have the clearest symptoms since you are physically pulling the hair out of your body. Trichotillomania often begins with pulling only a single hair out at a time, but episodes can last several hours. It’s also possible for people with trichotillomania to enter a “remission” period where they don’t feel the urge to pull hair for days to years.
Is Stress Hair Loss Reversible?
In many cases, yes, you can absolutely reverse stress hair loss. There have been cases of permanent hair loss in response to constant, high levels of stress, but these are typically rare. As you manage your stressors and gain control of your stress, your hair might slowly grow back.
Telogen effluvium will generally take place over a period of six months, after which the hair will slowly begin to return at about half an inch per month. Other forms of stress hair loss may begin to recover more quickly if you address the source of the stress. However, these types of hair loss may reveal natural, long-term hair loss.
Depending on the severity of hair loss, medical experts can also prescribe medications to help prevent hair loss while you learn to combat stress. You should also avoid other contributors to hair loss, like tight hairstyles, heat styling, or chemical treatments.
The Cyclical Nature of Hair Loss and Stress
For most people, hair is an intrinsic part of their being. It can be a form of self-expression, a major contributor to how attractive we feel, and is simply a big part of how we see ourselves. Even slow, natural hair loss can take a massive toll on a person’s self-confidence, leading to higher levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. The quick progression of hair loss due to stress is often extremely difficult to handle.
This feeds into a cycle where high stress levels cause hair loss, which in turn contributes to stress levels. As both conditions worsen, coexisting problems like depression will also progress, which then also add to the other issues.
Where to Start: Hair Loss or Stress
It can be tempting to address hair loss rather than stress levels. After all, hair loss is a physical and quantifiable issue, so it may seem much easier to treat. However, managing the stress that is causing the hair loss needs to be the initial step, otherwise, the hair loss will continue. Additionally, with both hair loss and stress, keep in mind that your recovery will not be instant. It will take months for you to notice any changes in your hair and there’s no way to know how quickly you’ll be able to address your stressors.
How to Manage Stress and Hair Loss
You don’t have to try to conquer your stress by yourself. In fact, doing so can be incredibly difficult, though there are simple things you can try. Many people find relief in relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or other calming activities. Exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet also provide some stress relief while improving your physical health.
Beyond lifestyle adjustments, professional counseling is your strongest option in learning to overcome stress. One of the most popular options, cognitive behavioral therapy, focuses on facing and changing negative thinking and situations to elicit a positive change. A good counselor will also use other techniques and create a custom treatment path that suits your needs and experiences, ensuring you learn how to manage your specific stressors. Because hair loss is likely also a concern, mental health professionals can teach how to address it psychologically and physically.
If you notice sudden hair loss or are experiencing high levels of stress, reach out to a medical professional. At FHE Health, our experts have decades of experience managing stress and all its potential side effects, ranging from anxiety to hair loss. We also understand just how personal hair loss and stress can be and will do everything we can to create a treatment path that addresses all of your concerns. Contact us today for a consultation or if you have any questions about how to move forward with your mental health care.