Anxiety disorders affect around 25% of the UK population every year . 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.
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 .
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.
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:
This condition occurs in response to severe stress and anxiety. This type of hair loss results in patchy hair loss where large clumps of hair fall 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 hair growth cycle 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.
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 stress-induced hair loss 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 thinning 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 . These stress hormones in turn can change the growth pattern of the hair follicle, inhibiting normal growth. More hairs than normal remain in or enter the shedding (exogen phase) and resting (telogen) phase of their growth phase cycle.
Anxiety can also trigger trichodynia. Also known as burning scalp syndrome, trichodynia is a painful condition that is often accompanied by telogen effluvium.
Unlike the other two conditions, Trichotillomania is not caused by unconscious effects within the nervous system but rather by the individual pulling out their own hair.
Trichotillomania is very mentally challenging for sufferers . Hair pulling 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 emotional stress and anxiety are one of the most common triggers.
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. Therefore, it’s important to listen and respond to your mind and body when you’re feeling anxious .
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 caused by stress and/or 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:
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 further hair loss caused by stress in the future.
Some popular and effective ways to reduce general stress are:
In addition to combatting stress and anxiety, there are several things you can do to improve overall health and as a result, promote new hair growth.
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.
Read our complete guide to hair supplements to learn more about the impact of vitamins on hair growth.
Keeping physically fit and well is beneficial for both overall health as well as hair health. So finding a form of exercise you enjoy and do regularly will help your hair regrowth as well as boost the strength and condition of your hair in the future.
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.
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.
Massaging the scalp stimulates blood flow and can improve the health of scalp 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 as well, so make sure you ask next time you get a haircut.
Although the hair loss associated with stress and anxiety can be severe, it’s not always permanent. Unlike genetic hair loss conditions like female or male pattern baldness, stress-related hair loss can be remedied by addressing the underlying cause of your anxiety. Once you treat the anxiety and stress, 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.
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 and get the right medical treatment. 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.
Image Credits: Sam and Holly Wilkins
Simply fill in your details in the form below and we'll get in touch with you shortly.