According to the UK’s Mental Health Foundation, around 74% of Brits felt so stressed during 2017 that they have been overwhelmed and unable to cope with their daily lives. This is a worrying trend, and one that highlights the social and economic challenges that face adults in today’s climate.
As a general rule, we consider the symptoms of stress in largely psychological terms. An estimated 51% of stressed adults reported feeling depressed last year, for example, while a further 61% experienced symptoms such as anxiety.
However, stress can also take a heavy physical toll on the body, including your hair follicles. In this post, we’ll examine the link between stress and hair loss while asking how you can protect your scalp!
Understanding how Stress Triggers your Hair Loss
Before we start, it’s important to note that some hair loss is perfectly normal. In fact, people typically shed between 50 and 100 hairs each day, depending on their age, immune response and any medication that they may be taking.
In instances where the rate of hair loss is considerably higher, this is often referred to as excessive hair shredding. The scientific term for this is telogen effluvium, which is triggered by various stressors that disrupt the hair’s natural growth cycle.
Telogen is best known as the final, resting stage of hair growth, during which time individual hairs are released and fall out. The follicle then remains inactive for a total of three months, before the entire growth stage is repeated.
It’s interesting to note that individual hair follicles enter alternative growth stages at different times, as this prevents you from going completely bald every three months or so! On a healthy scalp, between 80% and 90% of hair follicles are growing at any one time, with the remaining 10% or 20% sat within the resting phase.
When this balance is disrupted and a larger percentage of your follicles suddenly enter the resting phase, you’ll experience telogen effluvium and notice your hair falling out in clumps when your comb or wash it. The most typical causes of telogen effluvium are physical and mental stress, whether this occurs as the result of an injury or a significant trauma.
These various types of stress will temporarily disrupt the balance of your hair growth on a huge scale, and this is probably where the term “tearing your hair out” comes from!
What may Cause Stress-related Hair Loss?
When your body experiences physical or mental stress, this increases your body’s production of adrenaline. This in turn can be converted into cholesterol, which triggers a hike in your body’s levels of testosterone and has a direct impact on hair growth.
More specifically, people who are sensitive to higher levels of circulating testosterone and the male hormone DHT (Dihydrotestosterone) are likely to experience an increased rate of hair loss on the scalp.
The question that remains is what examples of stress could cause us to lose our hair? A serious physical injury could certainly trigger this sudden and temporary hair shredding, as could the stress associated with pregnancy, childbirth and some form of chronic illness.
From the sole perspective of mental stress, there are also a number of factors that could trigger telogen effluvium. If you’re experiencing money troubles or going through a divorce, for example, you’re likely to experience the type of chronic emotional stress that can render even the thickest of hair, thin!
Similarly, awaiting a surgical procedure may also cause significant levels of emotional stress, while the operation itself could also impact on the typical hair growth cycle.
How Can I Work out if my Hair Loss is Due to Stress?
There’s a significant distinction between hair loss and telogen effluvium, and understand this will help you to determine the precise cause of your thinning locks.
Hair loss occurs when something actively hinders hairs during the growth stage, and is commonly known as anagen effluvium. This biggest contributor of this is male pattern baldness, with this hereditary condition accounting for around 95% of all premature hair loss.
In fact, male pattern baldness impacts on around two-thirds of men aged 35 or younger, while 85% will have experienced this by the time they reach 50.
As you can probably tell, this type of hair loss is distinguished by a specific pattern. You’ll initially lose hair around the temples and the crown when experiencing male pattern baldness, for example, before the hairline recedes noticeably to create the “horseshoe” effect on your scalp.
In contrast, telogen effluvium can cause hairs to fall out randomly and in clumps, while this is likely to happen during vigorous activities such as combing or washing.
Of course, there are some causes of hair loss that also impact on random parts of the scalp, making it harder to distinguish the exact trigger. These include immune system response, specific medications and particularly harsh hair care products, each of which can adversely affect your hair follicles and the growth cycle as a whole.
In these instances, you may need to seek out a dermatologist to distinguish between hair loss and shredding. These doctors specialise in diagnosing and treating the skin, hair, and nails, enabling them to examine your scalp and follicles to identify the problem at hand.
They can also tell you what to expect and make treatment recommendations where appropriate, although in the case of male pattern baldness you’d be better off embracing your hair loss and defining a bold new look!
How Much Hair can be Lost to Stress?
With hair loss, the issue cannot be tackled without first identifying and eliminating the underlying cause.
The same is not always true with hair shredding, however, as this is always temporary and only lasts while your body or mind adapts to its brand new circumstances.
Typically, you’ll notice excessive hair shredding a few months after a physical trauma or emotionally stressful event, with pregnancy providing a prominent case in point. In this case, a new mom may see excessive hair shredding around two months after giving birth, with telogen effluvium usually peaking after a period of four months.
It’s at this stage that the body readjusts to the realities of motherhood, and by six to nine months the hair tends to regain its normal fullness.
The amount of hair lost during this period will vary, but anything over 125 each day could be indicative of an underlying issue. In total, there are 100,000 hair follicles on the human scalp, but if you notice them falling out in small clumps this also suggests that you have telogen effluvium.
If you’ve recently experienced physical or emotional stress and are concerned that you’re losing hair at a higher than average rate, we’d recommend performing a “pull test” at home.
Start with a small area of clean, dry hair, before running your fingers through it and tugging gently one you reach the end of your strands. If you have more than two or three hairs left in your hand after each tug, the time may have come to consult with a doctor.
Overall, no more than 10 hairs per 100 strands being tugged should be coming out, and depending on the pattern this could well mean that you have telogen effluvium.
How can you Treat Stress-related Hair loss?
As we’ve already said, telogen effluvium resolves on its own once the underlying stress or trauma has been resolved.
However, your symptoms can be exacerbated by a failure to take good care of yourself, which is always a risk where you’re stressed out and suffering with conditions such as anxiety or depression.
To avoid this, make sure that you eat a healthy diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruits and lean proteins. This type of balanced nutrient intake will help to boost your body’s immune system and make it far easier to cope with the stress that you’ve encountered.
We’d also recommend taking a vitamin and mineral supplement to compensate for any areas in which your diet falls short, particularly if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
It can be hard to consume the recommended amounts of iron, B12 and folic acid in some cases, so a dietary supplement is crucial to your overall health.
On a final note, try to treat your hair kindly and with care during periods of stress. Try to avoid complex styling techniques and harsh products, for example, while heat appliances should also be used with caution.
When dealing with individual or recurring bouts of emotional stress, it’s also worth bringing your feelings under control and creating coping mechanisms for the future. This will need to be tailored according to your own unique circumstances, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Start a Manageable Exercise Regime: According to research, people who undertake between 20 and 30 minutes exercise each day reduce their anxiety and stress levels by as much as 40%. Whether this involves brisk walking, intense cardiovascular workouts or yoga is unimportant, so long as the regime is manageable and suited to your schedule.
- Enjoy Yourself and Immerse yourself Socially: When you’re stressed, you have a tendency to become preoccupied with your worries and concerns. To overcome this, be sure to immerse yourself socially and spend time with your friends and loved ones. Just remember to have fun and refrain from isolating yourself from the crowd.
- Learn Relaxation Techniques: You may also want to learn some proven relaxation techniques, including popular examples such as meditation, guided imagery and deep breathing. By setting time aside every day to perform these techniques, you can realign your focus and create a more positive mindset for the future!
The Last Word
With these points in mind, you should be able to identify the cause of your hair loss and determine whether or not stress is the culprit.
Fortunately, telogen effluvium is not permanent either, while there are a number of ways in which you can combat its symptoms over time.