Stress and Hair LossOur bodies are a network of interconnected systems. Very few health-related issues happen to us in isolation. Stress is no exception. However, which comes first – stress or hair loss?
How Stress and Anxiety are Related to Hair LossFor men, a full head of hair is a symbol of virility, energy & strength. Women consider their hair as an expression of confidence, beauty, and personal style. When men and women begin to notice their crown of youth gradually disappearing, many begin to feel threatened. The feeling of being threatened may not even be a conscious thought. It’s not like people look in the mirror, see a bald spot or thinning hair and think to themselves “wow, I feel threatened!” However, the loss of an important beauty & strength signifier can and will create this threatened feeling over time, leading to anxiety.
Hair Loss Stress Has Deep RootsHumans have evolved a “fight or flight” response to external stimuli as a survival mechanism. When the body feels threatened or in danger, it releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Some manage this hormonal response better than others. Those with general anxiety disorder, for example, have an imbalance of these stress hormones and suffer ongoing anxiety that interferes with daily activities. In our modern world, many of us no longer encounter daily threats where we feel the need to fight for our lives. Our primordial ancestors did which is why we have this mechanism deeply ingrained into our DNA. While we no longer roam the plains fighting wolves, we constantly battle to keep our self-image intact. We are living in the age of ‘the selfie’. With social media, everything is centered around our outward appearance conveying attractive qualities. Reminders of our mortality, such as thinning hair, can trigger this fight or flight response. We are fighting for our virility, to look strong and attractive to others. Normally our brain manages fear and anxiety in the background, without it interfering with our daily lives. Over time, stress and hair loss can become a vicious cycle with each instance of noticing hair loss. Anxiety is the body’s reaction to unfamiliar, dangerous, and stressful situations. While hair loss may not be dangerous, it is certainly unfamiliar and stressful. Studies have shown that stress and anxiety-induced stress can contribute to specific hair loss conditions.
Three types of hair loss associated with high stress levels.
- Telogen effluvium. In telogen effluvium (TEL-o-jun uh-FLOO-vee-um), significant stress pushes large numbers of hair follicles into a resting phase. Within a few months, affected hairs might fall out suddenly when simply combing or washing your hair.
- Trichotillomania. Trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh) is an irresistible urge to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body. Hair pulling can be a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings, such as stress, tension, loneliness, boredom or frustration.
- Alopecia areata. A variety of factors are thought to cause alopecia areata (al-o-PEE-she-uh ar-e-A-tuh), possibly including severe stress. With alopecia areata, the body’s immune system attacks the hair follicles — causing hair loss.