Can stress cause hair loss or hair shedding? Did you ever notice a higher amount of hair in your shower drains or in your hair comb during a stressful time in your life? If so, you are not alone and that is no mere coincidence. Simply put, stress and anxiety-related hair loss are serious medical conditions.
The medical term used by hair specialists for hair shedding is called telogen effluvium (TE). The etiologies of hair loss are most commonly androgenetic alopecia, but there are many other causes of hair loss that require medical evaluation by a specialist in hair and scalp disorders. Millions of people have been impacted by TE. The good news is this type of hair loss can actually be successfully treated with the help and assistance of a hair restoration surgeon who is a Diplomate of the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery (ABHRS).
Dr. Williams in this blog post sheds light on the topic of stress-induced hair loss, its symptoms, causes, and potential treatments.
Stress and Anxiety: How are they related?
Your car broke down on your commute to work and now you won’t be able to make that important meeting, on top of that you forgot to pack your children’s lunch and why is your mother-in-law calling you again?
We are surrounded by daily stress triggers, family and career pressures are part of our day-to-day experience. Any physical, psychological, and emotional life-changing event can precipitate hair shedding. But stress is not just a fleeting concept but an actual medical condition, often overlooked.
What exactly is Stress?
Stress is a normal psychological human reaction that occurs when you experience emotional or physicial changes during the challenges of everyday. These external stress-causing factors are so-called stressors. Your body reacts to these stressors by releasing hormones that make your brain more alert, tense your muscles and increase your pulse. These physiological stress responses are not negative by themselves.
It turns out acute stress is your body’s way of protecting itself and can be very positive in certain situations. For example, if you have an important test coming up, stress can actually help your body work harder by entering its “fight-or-flight response”.
Long-term stress that lasts for weeks or even months has an impact on the physical, emotional, and behavioral well-being of human beings. Stress becomes problematic when there is no relief from the stress. Long-term stress also negatively impacts the immune system and the neurotransmitters, i.e., dopamine, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), norepinephrine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are linked to mood and anxiety. Neurotransmitters work with receptors in the brain to influence and regulate a wide range of processes such as mental performance, emotions, pain response, and energy levels. Numerous clinical studies have shown that inadequate neurotransmitter function has a profound influence on overall health and well-being.
What is Anxiety and how is it Related to Stress?
Simply put, Anxiety is a person’s personal reaction to stress long after the stressor is gone. It is an internal matter, often described as a persistent worry, fear, or a feeling of unease. It can even cause you to sweat, feel restless and tense while increasing your heart rate. Nevertheless, Anxiety is a much more complex disorder that may also be caused by genetics, brain biology and chemistry, and the environment.
You see, what both of them have in common is the “fight-or-flight response”. While helpful on certain occasions, in the long-term, both Anxiety and Stress can cause your body to release stress-related hormones on a regular basis. This constant exposure to stress hormones poses a high risk to your physical and mental health.
Hair Shedding or Hair Loss: How much is too much?
Turns out, our hair wasn’t meant to stay on our scalp forever. For men, hair loss patterns follow certain patterns. For women, hair loss can occur on the scalp in all regions. Hair follicles have a natural life span in men that in certain regions of the scalp are genetically predisposed. It is normal to shed between 50 and 100 hairs a day. Here’s why:
The growth cycle of hair is divided into anagen, catagen, and telogen phases. On average a single hair grows in the skin and scalp for 4 to 7 years in the anagen growth phase. It then follows the hair cycle into the catagen or “death” phase, followed by a transition into the telogen “resting” phase. Once the hair shaft is shed in the telogen phase, the follicle that remains in the scalp and skin and cycles back to the growth phase in 4- 6 months as shown in this illustration.
Another factor is hair care. Washing, combing, blow-drying, and styling your hair can all cause hair in the telogen phase of hair growth to shed, but this should not be confused with hair loss. The loss of hair to shedding is not the same as a medical hair loss condition like androgenetic alopecia.
Are you still concerned about the amount of hair you are losing?
Hair shedding is not the same as hair loss. Hair shedding is part of the hair’s life cycle or linked to trauma inflicted by styling, whereas hair loss means that your hair has also stopped growing.There are many factors that can cause hair loss. If you are experiencing unexplained hair loss, you should consider visiting a doctor to rule out a hormone imbalance, vitamin deficiency, or genetics. If all of those tests come back clear, the lifestyle is often looked at next.
To learn more about your hair loss or shedding, schedule your appointment at Orange County Hair Restoration with Dr. Ken Williams via our appointment request form.
Now: Let’s have a look at how your lifestyle might actually impact your hair.
Can Stress Cause Hair Loss, and Will it Grow Back?
One person might struggle with an exterior stress factor such as a demanding job. Another might have lingering anxiety from a traumatic past experience. There is no one-fits-all when it comes to stress and anxiety. Stress – physical or emotional – puts your body in survival mode. To answer the question:
Can stress cause Hair Loss? Absolutely, yes! Hair thinning, breakage, and loss can be a direct result of acute and chronic stress as well as anxiety. So stress and hair loss are very closely related.
Simply put, hair loss from stress can either be described as acute or chronic.
As a response to a high-stress incident or an acute stress response, hair fall may occur. This usually takes place 2-3 months after major surgery, an accident, or emotional trauma. Hair will usually start to regrow within the next 3-6 months after the stressor has been identified.
On the other hand, chronic stress or anxiety causes continuous and excessive hair shedding and general hair thinning all over the scalp. Once the triggers or conditions are under control, hair should start to grow back as well.
The effect of stress on the hair can be categorized by the following three conditions:
- Telogen effluvium: Significant levels of stress causes a large number of hair follicles to abnormally transition into a resting phase of the hair growth cycle. Within a couple of months, affected hairs might fall out suddenly even by simply washing or combing the hair. It takes around 6 to 9 months for these hairs to grow back. This condition is less severe and more common. Rarely, it can have a longer-term effect.
- Alopecia areata: One of the causes believed to cause Alopecia areata is stress. This medical condition causes the body’s immune system to attack hair follicles – causing the hair to fall out. Typically the hair falls out within weeks and usually in small patches. It can involve the entire scalp, called Alopecia Totalis. If the hair loss involves the entire body, it is called Alopecia Universalis (AU). AU is a medical condition involving the loss of all body hair, including eyebrows, eyelashes, chest hair, armpit hair, and pubic hair.
- Trichotillomania: Hair pulling can be a behavioral response to negative or uncomfortable feelings such as stress, anxiety, loneliness, and frustration. It is described as an irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of the body. Unfortunately, pulling the hair out may result in a permanent loss of hair.
How to Regain Hair Loss from Stress – Treatment and Prevention
The good news is stress-related hair loss is usually temporary. The first step for patients should always be to identify the stressors. These can vary from pressure at work to health issues, childhood traumas, and accidents. After identification of the stress triggers, implementation of various restorative strategies to minimize stress in your daily life is the first priority. Best of all learning how to manage stress can also help in preventing stress-related hair loss and other diseases.
Methods to Cope with Stress and Regain Hair Loss
There are a number of common sense ways you can daily implement to reduce hair loss and encourage new hair growth. Here are 5 ways to minimize stress and control stress-related hair fall:
- Practice self-care: When life gets busy, it is hard to take care of yourself. Practicing self-care can positively impact your mental health. Plant a garden, have a relaxing day at the spa, read a good book, join that art class. In its essence self-care means doing what makes you happy.
- Breath deeply and meditate: Knowing how to deepen your breath can be a helpful tool during a stressful situation and useful to reduce stress levels overall. Deep breathing can foster a sense of calm and can reduce stress and anxiety levels. A simple place to start is to become more aware of your breathing. Just take a minute once a day, at any time to observe your breath. Is it tense? Strained? Shallow? Then slowly begin to extend the length of your breaths. Deep breathing is also the basis of all meditation and mindfulness practices. As with the breathing technique, start small and go from there.
- Exercise regularly and rest abundantly: Having a daily walk or signing up for a yoga class can be a great way to eliminate stress after a long day. Try sticking with low-impact exercises and stay away from high-intensity training, which tends to raise cortisol levels and may actually promote the opposite effect. On the other hand, exercising too much without proper rest isn’t the way to go either. Make sure to rest enough and have enough good sleep.
- Adopt a balanced diet and nutrition supplementation: Start eating nutritious whole foods that are necessary for a healthy body. Healthy cells and tissues lead inevitably to healthy hair. Consume foods that are rich in and contain antioxidants such as Vitamins B, C, E, and D. Vitamin C is essential for building collagen and wound healing, while Vitamin B promotes healthy skin and hair. Vitamin E on the other side is a potent antioxidant, which can promote a healthy scalp. Vitamin D deficiencies have been associated in the medical literature with hair loss, and 1000 to 2000 units daily are recommended. Naturally, a healthy diet includes consuming ample amounts of water.
- Seek professional help: Are you still feeling overwhelmed? Seek professional help if you can’t get yourself out of chronic stress or anxiety. A professional can play a significant role in conquering stress and anxiety. They can help you find ways to reduce the impact of stress.
The first decision for the patient is to obtain a proper medical evaluation and diagnosis by a diplomate hair surgeon certified by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery (ABHRS). Once properly diagnosed and treated, patients can expect hair to start growing back within 6 to 12 months after discovering and managing their triggers and underlying conditions.
If you are concerned with your hair loss please feel free to contact our office at (949)333-2999 or fill out the appointment request form. Our office is located in Irvine, Orange County, next to the Newport Beach and Laguna Beach coastline.
Dr. Ken L. Williams
Dr. Williams practices medical and surgical hair restoration for men and women. His private practice is dedicated to the art and science of hair restoration. He is a Diplomate of ABHRS, the only surgical organization that certifies surgeons. Our hair doctor is also a fellow, of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery. He is an expert in Regenerative PRP, Stem Cell Therapy, and Surgical Hair Restoration in treating hair loss in men and women. He was one of the early cosmetic hair transplant surgeons to incorporate Follicular Unit Excision into his surgical hair practice, and he relates easily to his hair loss patients as he is a FUE surgical recipient of approximately 10,200 follicular grafts.