Stress-induced hair loss can happen to any of us. Find out how to stop stress-induced hair loss to regrow hair and regain your confidence.
Stress-related hair loss is a temporary form of hair loss caused by feelings of stress. Fortunately, you can reduce the effects of stress-induced hair loss and promote healthy new hair growth in several ways. This guide will cover how to stop hair loss from stress, types of stress-induced hair loss, symptoms, and treatment options.
What is Stress-Related Hair Loss?
Stress-related hair loss is a type of hair loss caused by increased stress and anxiety. Our physical and emotional bodies are intrinsically connected, meaning high-stress levels can significantly impact our physical health.
Stress-induced hair loss is caused by significant emotional stress, which differs for each person. This could include a break-up, work stress, pressure from school, or financial insecurity. When stressed, our body can no longer function optimally, so our hair begins to suffer.
Hair loss caused by stress differs from other forms of hair loss, such as male pattern baldness. This is not caused by stress, although stress may worsen it. Male pattern baldness is caused by an overproduction of a hormone called DHT (dihydrotestosterone) on the scalp and can be treated with finasteride.
How Does Stress-Related Hair Loss Happen?
To fully understand stress-related hair loss, it’s important to understand the hair growth cycle. A human scalp consists of around 100,000 hair follicles. Each hair follicle grows one strand of hair. It does this in 3 phases, known as the growth, resting, and shedding phases (in this order). On average, we can shed around 30 to 150 hairs every day.
When confronted with significant emotional stress, our body shuts down certain functions and enters fight or flight mode. This means it shuts down functions that aren’t vital for survival, such as hair growth. Your body, therefore, stops sending crucial nutrients to the hair follicles, causing a change in the hair growth cycle.
With significant stress, more hair follicles than usual go into the resting phase. At any given time, around 90% of your follicles will be in the growth phase, and the other 10% in resting. During stress-induced hair loss, an average of 20 to 50% of hair follicles go into resting.
After a few months, the hair follicles will move from resting to shedding, causing hair to fall out. The shedding phase can last anywhere from several weeks to several months.
Types of Stress-Related Hair Loss
There are 3 types of stress-related hair loss, with telogen effluvium being the most common. Both men and women can get stress-related hair loss, so these conditions are not gender specific.
Telogen effluvium is a common type of hair loss that usually occurs after a major stressor or a significant change in the body, such as giving birth, major surgery, or a severe infection. This type of hair loss is temporary but can cause around 70% of your hair to enter the shedding phase.
Telogen effluvium commonly affects women. It is not contagious and can go away without treatment. The main symptom is thinning hair, especially at the crown of the head.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder made worse by stress. Alopecia is a medical term for baldness, and areata means patchy. Therefore, alopecia areata is patchy scalp baldness, although it can also occur on any body part that has hair.
Alopecia areata happens because the immune system attacks the hair follicles. Unlike the other types of hair loss, it causes round bald spots rather than gradually shedding hair.
Trichotillomania, commonly called ‘trich’, is a stress-related disorder in which people pull out their hair. The condition usually begins during a time of increased stress or anxiety levels or because of unresolved trauma.
People with trichotillomania may also pull out body hair, such as eyelashes or eyebrows. The best treatment option for trichotillomania is therapy. Although medications may help increase hair growth, the root cause of trich should be identified so hair pulling can stop.
Causes of Stress-Related Hair Loss
There are many causes of stress-related hair loss, and not all are caused by stress of the mind. Some hair loss is caused by stress to the body, such as a nutritional deficiency or a hormonal imbalance. Stress can also cause some of these changes to occur.
Chronic stress is a feeling of stress that lasts a long time or comes back very often. You may feel constantly overwhelmed or pressured, even when the slightest thing goes wrong. When our body is chronically stressed, it cannot function as normal, constantly being in a fight or flight state.
This causes hair loss, which may not entirely disappear until you find a way to manage your stress levels.
Our body and hair follicles require certain nutrients to maintain homeostasis (a state of equilibrium). When we don’t get enough nutrients, our hair begins to suffer. This causes stress on our bodies, leaving insufficient nutrients to do the same job. As a result, hair, skin, nails, and other aspects of your health may suffer.
Whether male or female, hormones have a significant part to play in hair growth and loss. If your hormones are imbalanced, this can have a knock-on effect on how well your hair grows. A hormonal imbalance can also cause increased stress, causing further hair loss.
On the other hand, increased stress levels can cause a hormone imbalance as your body tries to cope with the stress.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress-Related Hair Loss
The signs and symptoms of stress-induced hair loss include:
● thinning hair, especially around the top of your scalp
● dry hair that falls out easily
● an increase in hair loss (you may notice this when you wash or brush your hair, or there may be more hair than usual left on your pillow in the morning)
● bald patches (if you have alopecia areata)
You will also notice signs of stress, such as:
● feeling anxious, overwhelmed or irritated most of the time
● being unable to deal with minor problems
● lack of energy
● trouble falling or staying asleep, or wanting to sleep more than usual
● loss of appetite
● panic attacks
● muscle tension, especially in the shoulders and jaw
● low libido (sex drive)
Diagnosis of Stress-Related Hair Loss
To get a diagnosis of stress-induced hair loss, you should speak to a doctor, hair loss expert, or pharmacist. They can have a look at your hair and discuss your symptoms. They will also talk about any stressors in your life to understand if the cause is stress.
The two are likely connected if you have recently been going through a lot of stress and now have hair loss. It can also help to regularly take pictures of your hair to see how it changes over time.
Treatment Options for Stress-Related Hair Loss
Stress-related hair loss is usually temporary, which means your hair will grow back when you treat the cause. You can also speed up the regrowth of your hair by using certain medications and supplements.
Medications and Supplements
A topical hair growth treatment like minoxidil (branded name: Rogaine) can promote hair growth. This is applied daily to the affected areas of the scalp and can be used whether you are a male or female.
Taking supplements alongside medication is the fastest way to grow back lost hair. You can find many different hair loss supplements designed to promote healthy hair growth. Look for supplements containing vitamins A, B, C and D, zinc, and iron.
Healthy body = healthy mind, which means incorporating healthy lifestyle changes can directly impact hair loss. Lifestyle changes that can help with stress and stress-induced hair loss include:
● reducing and managing stress levels (more on this below)
● eating a balanced, healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, and protein
● avoiding excess amounts of unhealthy foods, such as fatty, fried, or high-sugar foods
● not exceeding the recommended units of alcohol per week for your gender
● quitting smoking
● avoiding recreational drugs
● taking supplements that promote an overall healthy body and mind
● getting regular exercise (at least 5 days a week)
● getting enough good-quality sleep by going to bed at the same time each night, avoiding screens before bed, and having a bedtime routine
When stress is causing hair loss, it’s good to get to the root of it. You can do this by referring yourself to a therapist privately or via the NHS. Talking about your stress and finding healthy coping methods can reduce stress levels and improve mood.
Regular scalp massages can also promote hair growth, stimulating the blood flow to your hair follicles. This increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients each hair follicle receives, which can help speed up regrowth.
Preventing Stress-Related Hair Loss
If you want to prevent stress-related hair loss, your first line of defence is to learn how to manage stress in a controlled and healthy way. You can also improve your lifestyle to enhance your mood and overall well-being.
Managing Stress Levels
In the modern world, there are so many factors that can affect our stress levels. Family, finances, work, school, owning a house, caring for elderly relatives, and dealing with a loss can all cause significant stress. Many of us don’t even realise we are carrying stress until we notice physical symptoms, such as hair loss. Awareness of your stress levels is the first step in managing them.
You can manage your stress levels with the help of the following:
- Daily meditation. This is a great way to train your brain to become more still. Meditation comes in many different formats and doesn’t mean you must sit still for 10 minutes. You can do active meditations like walking, cooking, or dancing, focusing on being present with your body and mind. You can follow a guided meditation, chanting, or intention setting, depending on which resonates best.
- Journaling. You can learn more about yourself and go deeper by writing down your thoughts, fears, dreams, and desires. This can help you understand why you feel stressed and how to manage better. You can also use a stress journal to write down when and why you feel most stressed, which helps you understand your triggers.
- Yoga. A great stress-relieving tool that has been practiced for over 5,000 years. Yoga is about moving your body and connecting to your breath, learning how to be present and still, even in times of stress. You can join a yoga class or follow along with an at-home yoga video.
- Breathwork. Intentional and focused breathing has been scientifically proven to calm our nervous system. By elongating your exhales, you can come to a calm place and instantly reduce stress. This method can be done whenever needed, making it a great stress-relief tool.
- Getting outside. Walking is fantastic exercise, and being surrounded by nature is an effective way to reduce stress. Even a 5 or 10-minute walk is enough to calm your nerves and clear your head.
- Counselling/Therapy. Counselling may greatly benefit you if you have unresolved trauma or do not understand how to manage your emotions. You can work with a counsellor to heal any unresolved issues in your life that may affect how you react to things. Your therapist can also give you stress-relieving techniques that are personalised to you.
Eating a Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet isn’t just good for your waistline; it can help your body deal better with stress and promote hair health. Protein is an excellent source of nutrition for hair, as well as fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains.
Getting Regular Exercise
Regular physical exercise helps to alleviate stress, boosting feel-good endorphins. You should aim for a consistent exercise routine, with 1 or 2 rest days each week. For best results, do both cardiovascular and strength training.
Find an exercise regime that works for you and makes you feel good physically and mentally. Having fun can make exercise more attainable and will further influence a positive mood and outlook.
When to See a Doctor
You should see a doctor if you notice hair loss symptoms that are getting worse. You can also speak to a private clinic or online pharmacist. They can guide you towards the correct treatment options based on your hair loss symptoms and other factors, such as stress.
FAQs about Stress and Hair Loss
How Long Does it Take For Hair to Grow Back?
If your hair loss is temporary, which is usually the case when caused by stress, you should notice a slight improvement within a month. Hair grows at around 0.5 inches per month, meaning it will take at least 3 to 6 months to improve significantly. It may take up to a year for your hair to fully grow back, but treatments can speed up this process.
How Do You Know if Hair Loss is Caused by Stress?
The only way to know for sure if your hair loss is caused by stress is to get a diagnosis. A doctor can rule out any other conditions and form a treatment plan.
Stress-induced hair loss is a stress in itself but there are ways to manage and deal with it. Speak to a healthcare professional if you notice hair loss, as they can diagnose you correctly to ensure you get the proper treatment. Working on healthy lifestyle changes, improving stress management, and using medications and supplements can encourage healthy hair regrowth and prevent further hair loss.