Stress is a part of modern-day life, but that doesn’t mean it can’t take a toll on your health. We are likely aware of common symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, and emotional disturbances.
We may not realise, though, that stress’s effects on hair growth and scalp health are very real. It’s important to understand what this looks like and how to overcome these consequences in order to manage – or preferably prevent hair loss.
Stress Results in The Fight or Flight Response
The fight or flight response is a stress reaction that occurs when you feel threatened. When your body thinks it’s under attack, it releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to help you deal with the situation. This can be helpful in an emergency situation, but when stress becomes chronic and your body reacts this way all the time, it can have negative effects on your health—including hair loss.
But how does stress cause hair loss?
Not everyone who experiences chronic stress will experience hair loss. But there are some common causes:
- Extended periods of stress push a proportion of hair follicles into a premature resting phase, whereby sufferers will notice significant hair loss when the hairs come to shed.
- Increased agitation or anxiety may lead to trichotillomania, where a person will start to pick or pull at their hair, causing thinning, breakage and possible damage to the follicles.
- In some cases, chronic stress can trigger auto-immune responses that negatively affect hair follicles, such as alopecia areata.
The Effects of Chronic Stress on Scalp Health
Stress can cause hair loss in men and women, as well as scalp health conditions like dandruff, psoriasis, alopecia areata and seborrheic dermatitis. When you’re stressed, your hormones become imbalanced and disrupt the growth cycle of your hair follicles. This causes shedding to occur more rapidly than usual — which is why some people may find their hair starts to thin out after a major life event or when they’re going through stressful times.
“Studies have shown that a disruption of the microbiome can alter your scalp’s immune response, which can lead to issues like seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. With respect to the scalp, it would mean dried and irritated scalp, rashes and acne, and premature scalp aging, all of which then results in weak, fragile hair.” (Source)
How Stress Affects Hair Growth in Women
The type of stress that can affect hair growth in women is both physical and emotional. Physical stressors include extreme physical stress on the body, such as childbirth, surgery, or rapid weight loss and sleep deprivation.
Emotional stressors include anxiety-inducing life events, such as a death in the family or a divorce. Chronic anxiety or depression are additional triggers resulting from stress or adding to an already overwhelmed body.
How Stress Affects Hair Growth in Men
Men are more susceptible to hair loss than women. In fact, androgenic alopecia (also knowns as male pattern baldness) affects 70% of men but only 40% of women. This is due to the difference in hormones, as well as genetics. But there’s a good chance that stress could be accelerating male hair loss even further. Further, men are likely to suffer from the same stressors as women, as mentioned above.
(Read more about Hair and Scalp Issues for Men)
Reduce Stress and Promote Healthy Hair
With all that bad news out of the way, it’s good to know that – in many cases – you can prevent hair loss and scalp disorders as a result of stress.
- Meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety levels and reverse your body’s physical response to stress
- Exercise: taking the time to move your body is a great way to reduce stress and increase your overall sense of well-being.
- Yoga is also a popular answer to today’s crazy life. The meditative effects, coupled with promoting a healthy body, deep breathing, and increased blood flow all work towards lowering stress levels.
- Ensuring a good night’s sleep secures an essential period of rest and recovery for your body to help manage metabolism, inflammation, your circadian rhythm and so much more.
- Re-evaluate your diet to incorporate more whole foods and minimally processed foods from a variety of sources to provide your body with a healthy breadth of macro and micronutrients that support a healthy body and healthy hair growth.
- Cultivate positive thinking, as negative thoughts about yourself or others, will inevitably lead to more stress in your life.
All of these are well within your control, as is staying hydrated, and making smart lifestyle choices.
The Impact of Long-Term Stress on Your Health Can Cause Damage To Your Hair and Make it Difficult to Grow Back Once Lost
When you look carefully, your hair tells a story about your life and your physical and mental health.
Therefore, if you are suffering from scalp disorders or thinning hair, then it may be time to take a closer look at your stress levels. As we’ve seen, stress can be a very damaging force on your hair. It can cause it to shed excessively, leave the scalp inflamed and itchy and leave us with hair we barely recognise.
If the condition of your hair and scalp is a constant worry, there are many things you can do to help it along. We recommend starting off with a healthy diet, plenty of water and exercise. Ensure that you are using hair care products that are kind to your hair and scalp and that you’re not over-processing your strands with heat, chemicals or added weight. And, of course, a consultation with a qualified trichologist is an excellent place to get factual information and an accurate diagnosis of your personal situation.
Please feel free to contact us for assistance.