Stress has become one of the most dangerous risk factors for a wide range of diseases worldwide. While we’re making all efforts to prevent illness by avoiding unhealthy foods and exercising, stress often goes unnoticed. But why could stress possibly be that dangerous?
We usually get the impression we’re more or less stressed by certain events, but the truth is our brains can’t actually tell the difference between a tight deadline and trying to outrun a hungry bear, so it treats all stressful events as danger. This means that whenever you’re pressured, worrying or beating yourself up, you’re putting your mind and body through the stress of having your life threatened, at least from a chemical/physiological standpoint.
Stress may cause hair loss for three main reasons:
- It triggers or worsens auto-immune reactions with time, many of which are known to attack the hair follicle
- It depletes your body’s nutrient and mineral resources and interferes with the normal hair cycle
- It affects behavior (e.g. trichotillomania)
How does stress impact nutrition and well-being?
When you’re stressed, your brain enters the “survival mode”, meaning it redirects all energy resources towards cognitive processes, slowing down metabolism and other systems’ activity. This means lower amounts of vitamins and minerals get to your heart, bones, muscles, and nevertheless hair follicles. You may notice hair usually falls off during very stressful periods (especially if you have long hair), while also losing its shine and texture. This can be reversed with proper lifestyle adjustments, but if you are prone to alopecia and hair loss conditions, it could speed up their development or even act as a trigger.
Types of hair loss associated with stress
Telogen effluvium is one of the most frequent scalp disorders caused by physical or emotional stress, characterized by abnormal thinning or shedding – sometimes appearing to be very similar to alopecia.
This condition is characterized by one’s inexplicable urge to pull out one’s hairs, and in some cases even ingest them. It is caused by depression or stress, leading to noticeable hair loss and social impairment.
Also known as “spot baldness” in its early stages, alopecia areata begins by affecting hair growth in different areas of the body, usually the scalp. It often spreads, triggering alopecia totalis (on the entire scalp). Heredity and autoimmunity (whether inherited or stress-induced) are its top causes.
What can you do about stress related hair loss?
The first step towards preventing or reversing such conditions would be to eliminate all sources of stress from your life and seek to focus on enjoyable activities. Regular exercise is fantastic in dealing with stress, as physical effort releases endorphins (the “feel-good” hormones) and helps in the detox process. Even if you’re taking prescribed medication, you should always pay attention to diet and lifestyle if you wish to make a long-lasting change in the long term.