Stress can take a toll on you in more ways than you know. Have you ever wondered if female hair loss and stress are related in any way? I am here to tell you that there is absolutely a direct connection with stress and the amount of hair loss you experience.
Stick around to learn more about how hair grows, what is telogen effluvium, what causes stress-induced hair loss and how to cope with it to grow your hair back.
We all lose some hair as we grow older and according to the American Academy of Dermatologists, losing about 50-100 hairs a day is considered to be normal (although I personally think 100-200 is more of a “normal” range but I am no dermatologist).
But what happens when you notice an unusually large amount of hair shedding as you brush your hair, wash it, run your hand through it, dry or style it, or even when you notice a full-blown nest all over your pillow as you wake up in the morning?
This could be a sign that you are having stress-related hair loss!
Prolonged emotional or physical stress usually leads to two different kinds of hair loss in women: alopecia areata and telogen effluvium. In both conditions, hair shedding occurs within months of the stressful event, the former being patchy and the latter being diffused. Telogen effluvium is more common and less severe and will be the topic of this post.
If you would like to read more about how alopecia areata differs from other types of hair loss, you can click here.
Natural Hair Growth Cycle
To better understand hair loss, it is important to understand how hair grows. Hair grows in cycles and there are four phases of this cycle. Each hair follicle is constantly cycling through these phases, with the majority of hair follicles being in the growing or anagen phase.
Anagen Phase: Hair is actively growing and this phase lasts between 2-7 years.
Catagen Phase: Hair stops growing and prepares to slowly detach from follicle. This phase is the shortest, lasting between 1-2 weeks.
Telogen Phase: Hair is in the resting phase and does not grow for about 3 months (5-6 weeks).
Exogen Phase: Hair that was resting begins to shed to make room for new hair.
What is Telogen Effluvium
In a healthy hair growth cycle as above, 10%-15% of hair is in the telogen stage at any given time. This hair remains in the resting phase for about three months before they enter the shedding phase.
When the body goes through an extreme shock, especially psychological, more hair than normal (about 30-50%) is pushed into the telogen stage. All of this hair, then sheds after the three-month period. This is called Telogen Effluvium (TE), where hair loss is triggered due to the disturbance in the hair growth cycle.
Shedding Is Usually Abrupt
The amount of shedding visible from telogen effluvium is usually abrupt but takes place a few months after the actual inciting event. This is because hair prematurely enters the telogen phase and takes 3 months to complete the cycle.
For example, if you notice a sudden increase in hair fall and or hair thinning, look back a few months in your life to a time of a major shock or an extremely stressful event (more on this later).
Shedding Is Usually Diffused
Unlike other types of alopecia where bald spots appear, hair loss from TE is usually diffused and affects the entire scalp. This is to say that your ponytail will seem thinner or you might notice excessive shedding all over your bedding, furniture, shower, or on the floor.
If you are noticing a widening of your hair-parting line, however, that could be suggestive of another type of alopecia. Also, TE usually does not cause complete baldness even though up to 50% of all the hair on your scalp can shed at once during the telogen phase.
Shedding Is Usually Temporary
Luckily, hair shedding from TE is not permanent. However, the process to grow hair back to its normal density can take a long time. Also, even when the hair does grow back, it grows back super slowly (½ inch per month!).
It typically takes less than six months to fully see a “stop” in hair loss if it is stress-induced. Additionally, it can take the same amount of time or even a year to see all that lost hair grow back. Keep in mind that all this hair will eventually grow back if TE is the cause. Some of it that does not grow back is usually caused by another underlying hair disease like female pattern hair loss and must be ruled out by a doctor.
Shedding Is Usually Caused By Cortisol
Cortisol is a hormone released by our body in response to stress. It is what triggers a fight-or flight-response when we feel stressed or are in a state of shock.
High levels of cortisol in the body due to long-term stress leads to hair shedding as it prevents the adrenal glands from producing hormones that promote hair growth.
Moreover, it is this hormone that forces an average of 30% of scalp hair to prematurely go into the telogen phase, only to shed a couple months later.
Causes of Stress-Induced Hair Loss In Women
Having a super busy day filled with meetings and deadlines can cause a lot of stress, no doubt. But it does not necessarily cause hair loss. Neither does being stuck in heavy traffic or standing in a long line-up to pay for coffee.
So, what does? A significant amount of emotional stress due to a negative major life event definitely does. Let us look at some examples.
Maintaining a marriage is not easy but going through a divorce is even harder. Divorce is difficult for many reasons. It means a breakdown of not just the relationship but of all things associated with it.
It can get especially messy when children are involved and distribution of property and assets further exacerbate the pain. The aftermath of a divorce is a profoundly traumatic experience, one that makes coping with it extremely stressful.
2. Job Loss
While a single busy day at work does not lead to TE, losing a job altogether can lead to a great deal of emotional and financial stress. This can take a toll on anyone quite quickly and impact relationships, moods, and overall outlook on future employability.
Similarly, a job that is toxic can lead to chronic stress and can really affect your physical and mental well-being. It can make you sick, experience significant weight loss, and sabotage your personal relationships.
Moving to another city or town means leaving all kinds of known comfort behind to go to an unfamiliar place and start from scratch. This is especially difficult if you are relocating for a new job where you have to not just adjust to the new area but also learn about your new role.
Different areas have different levels of water hardness (yeah, no kidding!) and this can significantly impact the health of your hair, making it dry, damaged and break easily.
Read my articles on hard water and its impact on hair:
Death of a family member is undoubtedly one of the most stressful events anyone faces in their life. It creates a void that cannot be filled, no matter what.
The grief and stress arising from the death of someone who was terminally ill, suddenly sick, or even passed away from a traumatic accident can be unbearable, to say the least.
In all these cases, the body and mind both go into a state of sudden shock that may as well feel like their own world is ending. Conflicting thoughts, guilt, feelings of alienation and hurt are often common sources for stress.
5. Trauma Or Tragedy
After a traumatic incident like a car accident, injury, or even surgery, anxiety and depression can make the pain worse and hinder the healing process.
Recurring nightmares, fearfulness, anguish, insomnia, and much more can all exacerbate the problem and lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Similarly, tragedies like a natural disaster can also invoke the same kind of psychological strain and emotional stress. These tragedies may include but are not limited to: fire, earthquake, flooding, home robbery/invasion, mass shooting, etc.
6. Global Crisis
The entire world is in a crisis right now due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. This has undeniably affected the mental health of a lot of people. More and more people are struggling to cope with the stress from Covid-19 restrictions.
The lack of freedom to leave the house, sudden change in routine, being in lockdown at home, fear of contracting the virus, financial uncertainty, job insecurity, the challenges of working from home (WFH), wearing the mask for long periods, adjusting to the new norm and being physically separated from loved ones are all contributing factors of Covid-related stress.
Hair Regrowth After Telogen Effluvium
As mentioned earlier in the article, hair growth after TE is possible but is a slow and long process. Although hair typically returns to its normal density after 6 to 9 months, there are still a few ways in which you can support the better health of your hair.
Emotional Health Coping Strategies
The best way to overcome TE is to learn how to improve your emotional health. There are a number of coping strategies you can use to reduce your stress.
Meditation & Mindfulness: Clearing your mind of negativity and stress can do wonders to your mental health and overall well-being.
Breathing Exercises: Focus on your breathing to calm your senses and nervous system. Allow yourself to breathe in through your nose, expanding your abdomen and exhale from your mouth, shrinking your abs.
Visualization: Close your eyes and allow yourself to escape to your “happy place”. Visualize every little detail of this place.
Yoga: Learn to develop a healthy balance between your mind and body by practicing different forms of yoga asanas. Find out how you can use yoga for hair growth.
Self-Help Books: Read books or listen to podcasts that teach you how to cope with stress.
Follow Your Passion: Engage yourself in activities that make you feel good. It could be anything from organizing your thoughts, planning your day/week/month, playing a sport you love, going to the gym/ joining a fitness class, working on DIY projects, solving puzzles, painting, etc.
Better Hair Care Habits
A majority of our hair problems are self-inflicted, believe it or not. Here are a few ways you can avoid further damage to your hair.
Hairstyles: Avoid tight braids, buns, ponytails as they can lead to traction alopecia.
Hair Accessories: Use a wide tooth wooden comb, microfiber towels and silk pillowcases, ties and bonnets for hair as they are most gentle and prevent hair breakage.
Avoid Heat Damage: Excessive heat and chemical processing treatments change the shape of hair and cause a lot of damage to the hair shaft. Avoid or limit the use of both.
Proper Nutritional Intake
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is imperative to hair health. We are what we eat, as they say. Therefore, making the right food choices can “make or break” your hair’s strength.
For healthy hair, include these in your diet:
Protein: Hair follicles are made up of mainly protein called keratin and this is why it is vital for hair growth.
Iron: Stored iron (ferritin) in the body helps hair to complete a healthy hair growth cycle. Adequate iron levels in the body also help produce hemoglobin that carries oxygen in the blood for the growth and repair of cells, including hair.
Vitamins: Biotin (B-complex vitamins) is known to strengthen hair follicles and promote hair growth. Vitamins C & E prevent oxidative stress and make hair shiny and smooth.
Omega 3 fats: These fats nourish the hair, reduce inflammation in the body that can lead to hair loss and they also support hair thickening.
Seek Professional Advice
Lastly, consider consulting with an experienced dermatologist or a trichologist who will examine your scalp and hair to rule out any underlying health conditions linked with hair loss.
They can test for factors associated with telogen effluvium like iron or Vitamin D deficiency and even thyroid abnormalities.
A customized treatment plan that can be offered based on the findings of the test results could include topical or oral medications, injections, laser treatments, and even hair transplants in severe cases.
Alternatively, if you are experiencing severe forms of stress, meeting with a mental health therapist can help you develop a plan to cope with and manage your stress levels.
Also, sometimes just having someone to talk to can help overcome stress immensely.
Reasons other than stress can definitely lead to hair loss. However, it is no secret how big of a role stress plays in our life and how many ways it affects our health, including hair.
Telogen effluvium is usually stress-related. But stressing over hair loss can itself lead to more hair loss! Talk about adding insult to injury! Like we already don’t have enough to deal with, right?
Good news is that it is temporary so as soon as you are able to manage stress, which of course is easier said than done, your hair growth shall return to its normal glory. ‘Till then, do YOU and focus on YOU!
What do you do in times of increased stress?
Have you also experienced stress-induced hair loss?
Please do leave me your thoughts below in the comments section- I love reading from you as usual!