Updated: Jun 13
Everyone experiences periods of intense stress at one time or another. When extremely stressful situations resolve quickly it usually doesn’t cause any lasting problems, but when stress is chronic it can have some devastating effects on your health. One way that chronic stress can manifest itself is by causing hair loss.
What Is Chronic Stress? Chronic stress consists of events or circumstances that make you feel pressured, overwhelmed, or frustrated on a regular basis. This stress can come from health problems for you or a loved one, debt, your job, relationship problems, housing concerns, crash diets, and more. When these problems go on for a long time you may start to experience symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, upset stomach, headaches, irritability, changes in appetite, depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and eventually even hair loss.
How Stress Causes Hair Loss
Stress affects your adrenal glands and stress hormone levels. These stress hormones prevent the release of a molecule within the structures of the skin that is responsible for activating growth within the hair follicle. If the hair growth cycle is not activated, hair loss eventually occurs as more hairs are shed than are actively growing.
What Type of Hair Loss Is Stress Responsible For?
Stress causes three main types of hair loss. The first is telogen effluvium (TE). In this type of hair loss, stress hormones cause too many hair follicles to shift into the resting phase, which lasts for about three months. This type of hair loss usually occurs about three months after a significantly stressful event with sudden excessive hair loss. Normal hair loss is considered to be 50-100 hairs per day, but with TE you can lose as many as 300 strands of hair per day or more. The next type of hair loss that extreme stress can trigger is trichotillomania, which is the irresistible urge to pull or pluck out one’s own hair, often without the person even realizing that they are doing it. And the final type of stress-related hair loss is alopecia areata which is widely believed to be an autoimmune disorder, though its true cause is not really understood. It is thought that stress hormones may activate some dormant immune cells that then begin attacking the hair follicles. Sufferers of this kind of hair loss often report experiencing chronic stress or an extremely stressful event just prior to the onset of the hair loss.
Is Stress-Related Hair Loss Permanent?
Thankfully, stress-related hair loss is not permanent. In the case of a single stressful event, the resulting hair loss is usually self-limiting and your hair should begin to regrow in 3-6 months. In the case of chronic stress, reducing your stress levels will decrease the levels of stress hormones in your body, curb hair-pulling behaviors, and stop more hair loss from occurring. Once the stress is relieved new growth should begin in about 3-6 months as well.
Reducing Stress to Regain Hair Loss
The main goal in regaining hair lost due to stress is to reduce your stress levels. The first step in this journey is to reduce or eliminate as many stressors from your life as possible. You should also eat a healthy well-balanced diet of whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, and stay well hydrated. Now is not the time for counting calories and dieting, as these things typically make you feel more stressed. Instead, choose healthy foods and eat reasonable portions. Giving your body the proper nutrition helps it repair the damage stress has caused. Exercise is another way to help manage stress. Exercise releases those “feel good” hormones that counteract stress hormones' effects on the body.
Getting a good night’s sleep is also crucial to managing stress. Getting fewer than 8 hours per night greatly increases the negative effects of stress on your body. Since stress can interfere with sleep you may need to practice healthy sleep hygiene and consult your doctor to help you break the cycle of sleeplessness. Try not to use a phone or tablet close to bedtime. In fact, you should limit all screen time to at least an hour before bed. Blue light from screens can upset your internal clock and make your body think it’s morning.
Avoid caffeinated drinks late in the day, and develop a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down and get ready for bed. Other tools to help manage stress may include prayer or meditation, massages (specifically scalp massage), deep breathing techniques, tai chi, and seeing a therapist.
If you’d like even more help managing your stress-related hair loss, the knowledgeable hair loss experts at the Hair Restoration Institute are here to help with the latest and most effective hair loss treatments available. Schedule your appointment today and we’ll help you develop a plan to manage your stress-related hair loss. You can find us at 1201 West Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth, Texas, or call 817-854-HAIR (4247) for your complimentary and confidential consultation with an experienced hair loss professional.