Learn how stress can impact your hair.
It’s time to focus on us and our gorgeous locks.
Our hair is a big part of who we are. How we style it. What colour it is. Its texture. Everything about it defines us – no matter your gender, your age or whether you care at all about it. Psychologically, our hair effects how we feel about ourselves, and consequently our self-esteem. A good hair day can make us feel like we can pretty much take on anything. On the contrary, the term ‘bad hair day’ is the perception of an unmanageable day where everything goes wrong, and you subsequently feel very stressed. So, what happens when a ‘bad hair day’ becomes reality?
Everyone has experienced being stressed. People cope with stress in their own unique fashion, and factors such as personality, genetics, childhood events and socioeconomics can influence the way we deal with stressful situations. From daily stressors to major life events such as a bereavement, stress can be caused by a range of situations, usually linked with things you have little or no control over.
If we were asked to describe how we feel when we are stressed, we might use words like ‘anxious’, ‘angry’, ‘frustrated’ and ‘afraid’. Our behaviour usually changes, we might become a bit irritable and a tad snappy, sometimes we eat too much or too little, maybe our sleep is disrupted, or we find ourselves avoiding people. Mentally, we may find it hard to concentrate and perhaps have an overwhelming sense of worry. In terms of physical symptoms of stress, people can suffer from headaches, chest pains, stomach problems and even encounter hair loss. That being the case, let’s explore what takes place in our bodies when we are stressed.
When your body experiences stress, your body chemistry is altered. A stressor in our lives will cause stress hormones to be released in our bodies which activate our fight or flight response (think of a cave man meeting a sabre tooth tiger) and your immune system. Excessive stress can leave us in a constant stage of fight or flight, creating feelings of being unable to cope and overwhelmed. Over a long time, this will have consequences on our mental and physical health.
Right, it’s now time to pop your specs on and grab a notebook – it’s about to get sciency...
The main stress hormone in our bodies is known as cortisol. Now, cortisol is the hormone often associated with hair loss, as it affects the function and cyclic regulation of our hair follicles. This would explain why almost two thirds of people state the number one reason their hair lacks thickness and volume is due to stress. An additional piece of research discovered women who experienced high stress were 11 times more likely than women who didn’t report high stress, to suffer hair loss. Trichology is the science of the structure, function, and diseases of the human hair. Within this field of science, three types of hair loss have been linked to stress...
Alopecia Areata (al-o-pee-she-uh ar-e-a-tuh)
Alopecia is the medical term for bald, and Areata means patchy. This type of hair loss is when you lose patches of hair from your head, rather than the hair becoming thinner. It happens when your body attacks its own hair follicles, causing hair loss anywhere on the body, however usually on the scalp. It is an autoimmune disease, which basically means your immune system accidentally attacks part of your body, in this case your hair follicles.
Trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-may-nee-uh) (Otherwise known as trich)
Trich is when someone cannot resist the urge to pull out their hair and tends to be more common among teenagers and young adults. It might not just be their scalp, but it could be their eyebrows, beard/moustache, and eyelashes. Despite some sufferers turning to the action of pulling their hair out in response to a stressful situation, others may do it without even thinking about it. It is a behaviour that can sadly become addictive for some people.
Telogen Effluvium (tel-o-jun uh-floo-vee-um)
This is the most common type of stress induced hair loss. It occurs when the body sheds a marked increase in hairs shed each day. People shed 30-150 hairs a day as part of a normal hair cycle, Telogen Effluvium sufferers might lose 300. Hair that is growing is known to be in the anagen phase. Hair that is resting, in other words stopped growing, is known to be in the telogen phase. Those with Telogen Effluvium have an increased proportion of hairs shifting from anagen (growing) to telogen (shedding). This is caused by cortisol (the stress hormone) signalling hair follicles to prematurely shift. Typically, just 10% of our scalp is in telogen phase, suffers of Telogen Effluvium have 30% in this phase.
This type of hair loss can be triggered by extreme weight change, childbirth, a stressful life event, new medication, a high fever, recovering from an illness or a severe trauma. The hair loss doesn’t occur immediately, it’s usually a few months after a stressful event before people notice excessive hair shedding. Once the stressor stops impacting you, the shedding stops; within six to nine months people can have a full head of hair again. Yet, if the stressor remains constant, the excessive hair shedding will not stop.
*BIG DEEP BREATH* You still with us? Good!
Taking all of this into account, hair loss brought on by stress is a very real thing that hits us when we are at our lowest. Like everything, when you feel stressed and overwhelmed it’s essential to address the problem face on. Use techniques that work for you in alleviating the stress you feel – it might be getting out in nature or exploring a new practice like hypnotherapy.
Here are five things you can do to help reduce stress...
- Talk about your feelings to a friend, family member of health professional
- Have some “me time”
- Be physically active e.g., take a walk, do some yoga
- Practice mindfulness meditation
- Learn a new skill
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