Experiencing hair loss can be deeply distressing, and it’s natural to feel concerned and anxious about the reasons behind the thinning or shedding of your hair. If you’ve recently experienced major stressful situations in your life, you may suspect your hair shedding is related to stress.
But how can you know for sure?
One of the key indicators is that your hair starts excessively shedding after a stressful event. People experiencing stress-related hair loss also don’t have any defined bald spot pattern. Once you get your stress under control, you might see an improvement in your hair growth.
However, hair loss is complex and many possible causes could be behind it. So, you should always talk to your GP to get the right treatment.
Here’s all you need to know about stress-related hair loss and how to improve your hair health.
Recognising Stress-Induced Hair Loss
Stress-related hair loss often has distinct features that set it apart from other causes of thinning hair. Here are three notable characteristics:
- Onset After a Stressor. Normally, you can expect to lose 50-100 hair strands a day. Hair loss from stress is preceded by major stressful life events that impact you emotionally and physically. Significant stressors like trauma, death of a loved one, illness, surgery, emotional turmoil, or rapid weight loss can push more hairs than normal into the shedding phase.
- Gradual and Temporary Shedding. Due to the hair growth cycle, the excessive shedding from stress is gradual and spans about 3-6 months. Hair starts to shed a few months after the stressful event first occurs. The good news is that for most, the hair loss from stress is temporary once the stressor goes away or reduces.
- No Visible Pattern. With stress-related shedding, hair falls out evenly all over your scalp instead of in a defined pattern. You’ll likely notice more hairs than usual coming out while shampooing, combing, or on your pillow, clothing, and bathroom floor.
Stress and Hair Loss: The Detailed Connection
To understand why stress leads to hair shedding, you first need to know how hair grows. Your hair follicles have alternating growing and resting phases as part of the normal hair cycle.
There’s a specific type of hair loss caused by stress called ‘Telogen effluvium’. When you experience extreme stress, your body produces more of the hormone cortisol. An increase in the stress hormone cortisol, makes hair take a longer ‘rest’ and shed earlier than they should.
This means many more hairs than usual are at rest and not growing, which causes a lot of hair to shed a few months after a major stress event. The hair loss is gradual but significant, as up to 70% of scalp hairs can be pushed into the shedding phase.
For example, a death in the family, job loss, or major surgery can trigger heavy hair shedding a few months later due to the stress hormone response. The good news is that for telogen effluvium, hair growth typically resumes normally once stress is reduced.
Addressing Stress-Related Hair Loss
If you’re feeling that your hair loss might be connected to stress, we truly understand how challenging this can be. Here are some gentle steps you can consider:
- Track your shedding. Use a hair catch over 3 days to collect and count the hairs lost to get an accurate picture of your shedding rate. Seeing the numbers can provide motivation to take action.
- Identify and treat the stressors. Consider sources of emotional, physical or mental stress in your life and take steps to reduce them. Practices like meditation, exercise, therapy and addressing issues head-on can help.
- Improve sleep habits. Prioritise 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Lack of sleep elevates cortisol, worsening stress-related hair loss. Optimise sleep conditions.
- Adopt hair-healthy habits. Eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet and take supplements like vitamin D, iron, zinc and protein if deficient. Avoid crash dieting. Handle hair gently when washing and styling.
- Consider treatments. Regaine (minoxidil), Propecia (also known as finasteride), laser devices and certain shampoos like Alpecin may help stimulate growth. Discuss options with a dermatologist specialising in hair loss.
- Give it time. Telogen effluvium causes temporary increased shedding. Hair regrows once stress hormones normalise. Trust the process.
How to Prevent Stress-Related Hair Loss
We recognise that life can sometimes be overwhelming, and while it’s not always possible to avoid stress, there are nurturing ways to lessen its effect on your hair:
- Practice self-care. Make time for relaxing activities like walking, reading, massage and social connection. Keep stress levels manageable through regular self-care.
- Try mindfulness techniques. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and visualisation can activate the body’s relaxation response to counter stress. Practice them regularly.
- Eat a hair-healthy diet. Focus on nutrient-dense whole foods like veggies, fruits, lean proteins, nuts and anti-inflammatory herbs and spices. Stay hydrated and minimise sugar and refined carbs.
- Take key supplements. Biotin, iron, vitamin D, zinc and protein supplements provide building blocks for strong hair when dietary intake is insufficient. Work with a doctor to determine dosage.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking. Regular exercise relieves stress, increases blood flow, and boosts hair growth.
- Get sufficient sleep. Shoot for 7-9 hours per night, going to bed and waking up at consistent times. Quality rest reduces stress hormone levels that can disrupt the hair growth cycle.
- Consider scalp massage. Some research indicates massage may increase circulation, reduce stress hormones, and stimulate hair growth. Try a weekly scalp massage with oil.
Understanding Hair Loss: Broader Context
While stress can cause sudden hair shedding, it’s important to understand other potential causes of hair loss for a proper diagnosis:
- Androgenetic alopecia. This genetic and hormonal disorder causes a receding hairline and/or thinning at the crown. It affects both men and women as they age. Stress can worsen it.
- Nutrient deficiencies. Low iron, zinc, vitamin D3 and protein can interrupt the hair growth cycle and cause loss. Blood work helps diagnose deficiencies.
- Thyroid disorders. Both too little and too much thyroid hormone in your body can cause hair to thin and shed. This is more common in women.
- Autoimmune disease. Some health conditions, like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and alopecia areata, lead to hair loss because the body’s defence system mistakenly targets hair roots.
- Infections. Bacterial or fungal scalp infections can cause temporary hair loss localised to affected areas. Treating the infection resolves this.
- Medications. Certain prescription medications like blood thinners, antidepressants and cholesterol lowering meds list hair loss as a side effect.
Having a proper diagnosis allows appropriate, targeted treatment. See your doctor or dermatologist if you are concerned about ongoing hair shedding.
Myths and Misconceptions About Stress and Hair Loss
There are some common myths regarding the relationship between stress and hair loss. Let’s separate fact from fiction:
Myth: Stress only causes temporary hair loss.
Fact: While telogen effluvium from stress is often temporary, chronic stress can prolong hair shedding and even cause permanent loss by damaging follicles. Ongoing emotional stress should be addressed.
Myth: Only major traumas can trigger stress hair loss.
Fact: Daily pressures like work stress, financial strain and interpersonal issues can elevate cortisol enough to disrupt the hair cycle, especially if already predisposed to hair loss. Don’t downplay chronic stressors.
Myth: Hair loss from stress is easily recognisable.
Fact: Stress-induced loss often resembles genetic thinning in the early stages. Look for other telltale signs like excessive shedding after a stressful event. Don’t dismiss hair changes as just ageing.
Myth: Once stress is reduced, hair regrows rapidly.
Fact: Hair regrowth after telogen effluvium is gradual, taking anywhere from 6-9 months to return to normal density as follicles reenter the growth phase. Have realistic expectations for recovery.
Myth: Stress-related loss only affects the scalp.
Fact: While most visible on the scalp, stress can cause shedding of body hair like the eyebrows, eyelashes and limbs. The impact is holistic.
FAQs: Common Questions About Stress-Related Hair Loss
Will my hair grow back if I lose it due to stress?
Yes, in most cases hair loss from short-term stress is reversible. Hair regrows once stress hormone levels normalise and follicles re-enter the growing phase. However, chronic unmanaged stress can have long-lasting effects. Addressing the root cause is key.
What does stress hair loss look like in women?
In women, stress-induced shedding often causes noticeable thinning of hair volume, especially at the crown and top of the head. Increased hair loss when brushing or washing is also common. Stress typically does not cause a receding hairline in women.
Can anxiety cause my hair to fall out?
Yes, anxiety disorders like generalised anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and OCD cause chronic stress that can trigger or worsen hair loss. Getting anxiety under control through therapy, medication or lifestyle changes is important. Acute anxiety from specific situations can also briefly increase shedding.
What should I do if stress is causing my hair to fall out?
Start by identifying and treating the sources of stress through self-care practices, therapy, medication, or life changes. Improve sleep, nutrition and exercise habits. Consider hair growth supplements and treatments. Most importantly, be patient. Hair recovers gradually once stress is relieved. Focus on your overall well-being.
How can I tell if my hair is thinning or if I’m just paranoid?
Use an objective measurement like counting hairs lost over 3 days or taking periodic photos of your hair part and crown. Compare this to evidence-based thresholds for normal shedding rates. Seeing a dermatologist can also provide an expert opinion. Sudden thinning is usually not just paranoia.
What are 5 chronic stress symptoms I should watch for?
Look out for constant fatigue, change in appetite, frequent headaches or digestive issues, worsening anxiety or sadness, and body aches and pains. If you notice any emotional, mental or physical symptoms persisting daily for weeks, chronic stress could be a factor.
Facing the challenge of significant hair loss can be emotionally tough, especially when you’re searching for answers. Please know that you’re not alone in this. If you suspect your shedding may be linked to stress, know that in most cases the hair loss is temporary and reversible. Look for telltale signs like shedding onset after a major stressful event without an obvious bald spot pattern. While distressing, this type of diffuse hair loss is the body’s natural response to stress overload.
The good news is that hair re-grows over time once stress hormone levels drop and the hair growth cycle resets. Focus on identifying and treating the root causes of stress through self-care, therapy, medication and lifestyle changes. Be patient with the process and take a holistic view of improving your overall well-being, not just your hair. With the right strategies to regulate stress, your hair should regain its natural thickness and fullness.