The one thing that everyone must understand about their hair is that it serves no vital function for our health. Without it, we can live and function normally.
Centuries ago, the hair on the heads of our early ancestors kept their head warmer, and reduced heat loss. However, for the most part, this is no longer necessary in today’s modern society. When the body and our health is negatively affected (trauma, pregnancy, emotional stress, major illness) your hair no longer has priority for your health maintenance.
It’s as if your body is saying, “I’ve got bigger problems to worry about and take care of, I don’t need to worry about hair growth right now.”
Your body’s built-in self-healing “process” considers your other problems so important, that it concentrates on the problem and ignores your hair. “… a sudden or stressful event can cause the hair follicles to prematurely stop growing and enter into a resting phase.” (1)
Severe mental stress can have this affect as your body and mind tries to deal with your emotional issues. This process, known as telogen effluvium, occurs when more hairs go into a “resting phase” and are shed. (Read more about Hair Growth Cycle.)
Telogen Effluvium is characterized by sudden, diffuse hair loss caused by an interruption in the normal hair growth cycle. This interruption is often the result of trauma, such as chemotherapy, childbirth, major surgery, severe stress, and severe chronic illness. This trauma causes large numbers of hair follicles to enter a stage of telogen, or rest, simultaneously.(2)
The telogen phase can last 6 to 12 weeks (and much longer if left untreated) and affects women much more then men. Stress factors that can lead to temporary hair loss:
- Death of family member, friend or spouse
- Intense work related stress
- Financial problems
- Major illness or surgery
- Child birth
The good news is that stress related hair loss (telogen effluvium) is temporary. In fact, due to the nature of the hair growth cycle, by the time you hair starts to shed heavily, your stress related problem may have already been resolved.
“The odd thing about this condition is that you’re usually over the stressful event before the hair loss even starts.” (3)
However, for many people, a major stressful event can be more lasting. At times like these, these tips for handling stress are helpful: (4)
- Exercise. Just 20 minutes a day can produce enough endorphins to reduce stress levels.
- Write in a journal. Writing your thoughts and feeling down in a journal can help in expressing the frustrations you are keeping inside.
- Get a massage. Massage therapy can relax muscles, ease muscle spasms, increase blood flow to skin and muscles, and relieve mental and emotional stress.
- Realistic expectations. A lot of stress is caused by disappointment in ourselves and/or others. When we or others can’t live up to expectations you may have, disappointment and stress can set in. If you feel this applies to you, adjust your expectations. Don’t expect everyone to be like you or behave to your code of “shoulds and oughts.” And don’t say yes to demands that you know will be difficult to live up to. Don’t let ego and social pressure force you into being/doing something your not.(4)
The danger about stress related hair loss is misdiagnosing it. A self-diagnosis where you tell yourself, this hair loss is probably stress related because my father just died, can backfire later. The problem is, your hair loss may not be stress related at all!
“However in some cases where diffuse and sudden hair loss occurs the hair loss may continue until the underlying cause is treated.” (1)
Lynn Drake, MD, has outlined many OTHER different causes for telegen effluvium which include:
- Thyroid or liver disease
- Too much vitamin A
- Anti-cholesterol medication
- Zinc deficiency
- Protein Deficiency
- Systemic Lupus
“I have diagnosed nine women with systemic lupus, who did not know they had lupus but presented to the office because of thinning hair,” Drake said. Also, more then 300 drugs have been identified as a possible cause of hair loss as a side-effect.(5)
Even if you think your hair loss is stress related, see a dermatologist to rule out any other health problems you may have.
- Telogen Effluvium: Sudden stress relate hairs loss which appears as thinning throughout the whole scalp. Follicle.com, 2002
- Telogen Effluvium, Wikedia.com, May 2005
- Can Stress Play a Role in Hair Loss?
- Stress Relief Tips, Essortment.com, 2002
- Reasons for women’s hair loss go beyond obvious; be thorough in work-up. DermatologyTimes.com, Lynn Drake, Feb 2005