Stress, especially chronic stress, can cause a variety of physical symptoms such as headache, stomach ache and fatigue. Chronic stress may also lead to more extensive health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.
But a widely debated symptom of chronic stress is its effect on hair. Can stress really make your hairs turn grey, or even cause you to lose your hair? While we don’t have all the answers just yet, science has shown that chronic stress can contribute to a number of conditions that can lead to hair loss.
The most common type of hair loss due to stress is called telogen effluvium. This is normally a temporary hair loss, however, it can be quite concerning when it happens. With this condition you might notice a lot of hair on your comb or brush, or notice clumps of hair falling out when you wash your hair.
The normal life span of a hair is about 4.5 years. At that time, the hair falls out. Then, about six months later, a replacement hair grows in its place. Typically, we’ll notice notice when a hair falls out, but won’t usually have hair thinning because the average head has about 100,000 hairs - all continuously falling out and being replaced. With this continuous process, each day you lose about 100 hairs while at the same time, the same number of replacement hairs are growing.
Telogen effluvium isn’t actually a loss of hair, but that your body stops growing replacement hairs after trauma is experienced in the body, making it thinner. People don’t usually notice the thinning hair until t** wo to three months after a stressful event.** If trauma or stress was short lived, such as stress from an illness or a car accident, you might not instantly associate the stressful event with the thinning of hair, making you feel as if you are losing your hair for no reason.
But when stress is chronic, this process can continue, and your hair will keep getting thinner. The good news is that it doesn’t have to become permanent. Once you have lowered your stress levels, your hair will start to grow normally after about six to nine months.
While any physical or emotional stress can disrupt your hair growth, some common causes of telogen effluvium include:
Pregnancy and childbirth
Acute illness with a fever
Some medications, such as antidepressants, can also cause telogen effluvium.
Some people develop a condition called trichotillomania, which is habitually pulling out hairs. People with trichotillomania pull their hair out from the root. Hair may be pulled from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, pubic area or on on their body.
While some with this condition may pull out one strand of hair at a time, in some cases, a person may pull out handfuls of hair, leaving bald patches. Pulling out their hair tends to give people a brief feeling of relief from their anxiety**, but may end up making them feel more anxious and insecure,** especially if bald patches occur. For most people with trichotillomania, hair will grow back, however, if you pull out your hair over a long period of time, you may lose some of your hair permanently from damaging the cuticle.
Alopecia Areata is thought to be an autoimmune disease. where the immune system attacks the hair follicles. This condition usually results in bald patches on the scalp, and can affect men, women and children.
Alopecia begins to appear as either one or two patches or there can be many patches on the scalp. For those developing Alopecia before puberty, there is often long-term hair loss. Some experts believe that alopecia is related to stress, however, the American Hair Loss Association believes genetics play a much bigger role. According to this organization there is “very little scientific evidence” to support the view that stress plays a role in alopecia.
See more helpful articles
Alopecia Areata: American Hair Loss Association
Effluviums: American Hair Loss Association
Telogen Effluvium (FAQ): North American Hair Research Society
Trichotillomania: National Institutes of Health
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of Idiot's Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot's Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love and Essential Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. She can be found on twitter @eileenmbaileyand on Facebook at eileenmbailey.