The connection between stress and hair loss

When stress levels are high, you may have noticed that your hair may begin to fall or become very weak. Research shows that significant emotional stress may be linked to at least one type of hair loss: telogen effluvium. We wish to share with you all the information that will help you better understand what that type of hair loss means and what you can do to change that. 

There are approximately 100,000 hair follicles on the adult scalp. Each hair follicle is constantly cycling between growth and rest. The majority of these hair follicles are in the growth phase (anagen) at any given time. When the hair follicle transitions to telogen, or the resting phase, the hair is shed. During an episode of telogen effluvium, a trigger causes a sudden, abnormal shift of hairs into the telogen phase all at once. One possible trigger for this sudden shift? Significant emotional stress! What qualifies as significant emotional stress? Any major negative life events or traumatic experiences.

The pattern of hair loss associated with telogen effluvium is diffuse. Individuals experiencing telogen effluvium may notice a thinner ponytail, or a sudden increase of shed hairs in the shower. It is considered normal to shed about 100-200 hairs per day, but the exact number varies based on the individual or hair care practices. While it is not uncommon for up to 50% of scalp hair to be shed during a telogen effluvium, this condition, reassuringly, does not cause complete baldness.  

The good news is that this type of hair loss is temporary! It can take months before the shedding stops, and then months to years for lost hair to grow back. In some circumstances, hair does not fully return to its normal density. For one, telogen effluvium can uncover other types of long-standing hair loss, such as female pattern hair loss. Additionally, overall hair density is expected to slowly decrease with age, and in some cases, telogen effluvium can be chronic and lasts for multiple years.

Unfortunately, there is no proven way to prevent or stop an episode of telogen effluvium, and it should resolve on its own with time. However, there are a few things that may help to support overall hair health. 

  • Eat a balanced diet, and in particular, consume an adequate amount of protein. Hair is made up of primarily protein (keratin), so it’s no surprise that sufficient protein is vital to maintain and grow hair. 
  • Avoid very tight hairstyles, excessive heat styling, or chemical-based treatments, as these can contribute to hair loss or cause hair breakage. 

The most important piece of advice that we can give you is tending to emotional health and practicing coping strategies. 

  • Any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever.
  • Avoid unhealthy habits such as consuming a lot of caffeine.
  • Try meditation! Focus your attention and quiet the stream of thoughts that may be causing stress. Meditation can instill a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health.
  • Try yoga, with its series of postures and controlled-breathing exercises, yoga is a popular stress reliever. 
  • Make sure to get enough sleep. Stress can cause you to have trouble falling asleep. But sleep is the time when your brain and body recharge.
  • Keep a journal, writing down your thoughts and feelings can be a good release for otherwise pent-up emotions. 
  • If new stressors are challenging your ability to cope or if self-care measures just aren’t relieving your stress, you may need to look for reinforcements in the form of therapy or counseling. 

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