Anxiety And Hair Loss: Can Stress Cause You To Lose Hair?
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Anxiety And Hair Loss: Can Stress Cause You To Lose Hair?

Anxiety disorders affect around 25% of the UK population every year [1]. And while stress and anxiety are unpleasant experiences, they’re actually positive responses to stressors or scary situations. Anxiety in particular causes our body to experience symptoms of fight-or-flight — usually a rush of adrenaline that makes your heart beat quickly and causes your body to tremble.

But while stress and anxiety can make us feel panicky and alert, they also cause other unwanted side effects, including hair loss. In fact, women with stressful lives are 11 times more likely to lose their hair [2].

Anxiety-related hair loss can lead to further distress. If you’re losing hair as a result of your mental health condition, here’s what you can do about it.

Why does anxiety lead to hair loss?

If you are losing your hair as a result of stress and anxiety, there are a number of conditions you may be suffering from. These include:

  • Alopecia Areata
  • Telogen Effluvium
  • Trichotillomania

Alopecia Areata

This condition occurs in response to severe stress and anxiety. It results in large clumps of hair falling out from the scalp. This is an autoimmune response where white blood cells — which normally protect the body but fight invaders — are prompted to attack the body’s own hair follicles.

This attack hampers the growth of the affected hairs and after a few weeks of this, the hair falls out. The condition typically manifests in small clumps of hair in one area at first, with small round shaped spots on the scalp. If the condition is left untreated, it can spread much further and creep across the entire head.

Telogen Effluvium

Some stressful life events — such as childbirth, emotional trauma, surgery, or illness — can cause significant stress that leads to sudden hair loss. This is known as telogen effluvium.

However, this doesn’t always happen rapidly. The condition may be present for a long time before you start to notice the effects, possibly even months. It typically causes a thinning of hair on the top of the scalp rather than at the sides, or the front. Sufferers often notice this effect when they’re brushing their hair or when washing it in the shower.

Telogen Effluvium is caused by abnormal chemical activity in the body which causes the nervous system to send harmful messages to the hair follicles [3]. This in turn changes the growth pattern, inhibiting normal growth. More hairs than normal remain in or enter the shedding and resting parts of their cycle.

Trichotillomania

Unlike the other two conditions, Trichotillomania is not caused by unconscious effects within the nervous system but rather the individual pulling out their own hair.

Trichotillomania is very mentally challenging to sufferers [4]. This is not an attention-seeking habit but a compulsion that they can’t stop, going as far as leaving bald patches as a result. Trichotillomania can occur in response to a number of different mental health conditions, but stress and anxiety is one of the most common.

Anxiety and hair loss can affect anybody

Dealing with anxiety can be exhausting. Putting your mind and body under pressure to recover can actually add to your stress levels. There’s evidence to suggest that alopecia leads to further anxiety, too — so it’s important to listen and respond to your mind and body when you’re feeling anxious [2].

What to do if you’re experiencing anxiety and hair loss

If you are under pressure and feeling anxious, hair loss won’t suddenly occur, and it won’t be the only symptom. In most cases hair loss as a result of anxiety only occurs when the symptoms are particularly severe or have been present for a long time.

It’s therefore a good idea to treat anxiety straight away. This gives you a better chance of it responding to treatment straight away, and less chance of developing symptoms such as hair loss.

Hair loss restoration treatments like hair transplants aren’t effective for people who have lost hair as a result of anxiety. Instead, the underlying cause needs to be addressed.

Treating anxiety is difficult, but there are steps you can take, such as:

  • Visiting your GP — they can discuss your symptoms and refer you to a specialist
  • CBT therapy — cognitive behavioural therapy is proven to be effective at managing anxiety [5]
  • Taking care of your body — getting regular exercise and eating well can improve symptoms of anxiety.

Reducing stress

As well as taking the best possible care of your hair, reducing your general stress levels will not only boost the condition and growth of your hair, it can help to prevent stress-related hair loss in the future.

Some popular and effective ways to reduce general stress are;

  • Spend time in nature
  • Discuss your emotions with a trusted person
  • Explore meditative practices such as yoga, mindfulness or Tai Chi
  • Relaxing self-care habits such as baths and massage
  • Reducing screen time, especially your bedroom
  • Pursuing a creative outlet such as painting or writing
  • Joining a club or sports team

Ways to regain hair loss from stress

Vitamins & supplements

The condition of your hair and the rate of regrowth is greatly influenced by your overall health, so improving your general nutrition will positively affect your hair. There are also certain vitamins and supplements that are renowned for supporting healthy hair growth, for example, vitamins D and B5, omega-3 oils, iron, zinc, and folic acid.

General exercise

Keeping physically fit and well is beneficial for the overall health that supports healthy hair. So finding a form of exercise you enjoy and do regularly will help your hair regrowth as well as boosting the strength and condition of your hair in the future.

Specific exercises

Certain exercises are particularly helpful in encouraging hair growth. For example, some yoga poses are known to be beneficial for stimulating blood circulation in the scalp which will aid healthy hair. Most types of inversion exercise (where you tip your head upside down) can improve hair health.

Shampoo & haircare products

There are specialist shampoos, conditioners, treatments and products that are designed to thicken hair or encourage faster, stronger regrowth. These often have active ingredients ranging from natural additions such as caffeine or wheat to chemically-produced ingredients such as Minoxidil.

Massage

Massaging the scalp stimulates blood flow and can improve the health of hair follicles. You can give yourself a gentle scalp massage in small, circular movements. Alternatively, visit a specialist provider such as an Indian Head Massage therapist. Hairdressers are also increasingly offering this service.

Is anxiety-related hair loss permanent?

Although the hair loss associated with stress and anxiety can be severe, it’s not always permanent. By addressing the underlying cause of your anxiety, you can soon get back to a healthy head of hair.

Working on reducing overall levels of stress and anxiety is very important as well as learning coping techniques in case of recurrence.

When to speak to a hair loss specialist

It’s important to remember that hair loss isn’t always caused by anxiety. If you experience substantial hair loss, you should visit a doctor or trichologist to rule out any other underlying causes. Then you can work on reducing your overall anxiety and getting professional hair restoration treatment.

If you’re worried about hair loss for any reason — including stress, anxiety, depression, or any other condition — speak to a trichologist. They’ll be able to help you find the best course of action to restore your hair. They can also refer you to the right specialist to help you manage your mental health.

Sources:

  1. Mental health facts and statistics
  2. The psychological impact of alopecia
  3. Telogen Effluvium: What Is It and What Can I Do?
  4. Trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder)
  5. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders: an update on the empirical evidence

Image Credits: Sam and Holly Wilkins

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