Does the stress of the impending holiday season have you pulling your hair out? You may not be alone. For generations there has been a widespread belief that any sudden shock had the potential to make your hair fall out or at least to make it turn prematurely white. More realistically, many men and women have found their hair thinning after undergoing prolonged illness, physical hardship, or severe physiological trauma. Although there is no direct causal relationship between anxiety and the various forms of hair loss, your mental condition can most certainly play a role in determining the thickness and overall appearance of your hair. Here are some of the most important things you need to know about the relationship between stress and hair loss.
In most cases, when people believe that emotional stress is causing their hair loss, they are actually experiencing a fairly common condition known as telogen effluvium. All follicles naturally go through a regular hair growth cycle. At any given time, about 90% of the hair on a person’s scalp is growing while the remaining 10% is undergoing the telogen (or “resting”) phase, where the hair shafts are being shed to make room for the next cycle of hair growth. This is why it is not unusual to shed anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs a day. However, when the body is severely damaged, that natural cycle can be disrupted and a disproportionately large number of follicles can enter the telogen phase simultaneously, causing large amounts of hair to fall out all at once. Typically, telogen effluvium is triggered by significant physical trauma, like that arising from a serious car accident or major surgery. However, during periods of emotional strain, such as after a divorce or the death of a loved one, some patients may experience significantly elevated blood pressure or may go long periods without eating, either of which can be interpreted by the body as a form of physical distress. This is one of the reasons why serious mental stress can, in some cases, lead to telogen effluvium just as certainly as physical stress can.
While the hair loss experienced during telogen effluvium is usually only temporary, and the hair cycle returns to its regular pattern once the physical stress on the body has been removed, more serious mental health issues can sometimes have more lasting effects. Trichotillomania is a mental disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from the scalp, eyebrows, or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop. Not only can this compulsion leave patchy bald spots that can cause significant distress, but the repeated damage inflicted on the follicles themselves can permanently impair their ability to produce new hair, a condition similar to scarring alopecia. While the cause of trichotillomania is unclear, the condition does seem to occur more frequently in those who are also suffering other disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Without treatment, symptoms can vary in severity, and may come and go for weeks, months or even years at a time. Because trichotillomania is not just a bad habit but a diagnosable mental health disorder, it is unlikely to get better without professional treatment from a mental health professional.
There is an intricate connection between the body and the mind. Not only can mental health impact your hair loss, but (as anyone experiencing it can attest) hair loss can also cause a great deal of stress. If you are concerned that you may be starting to experience hair loss and would like to have its cause diagnosed by hair restoration specialists Dr. Edmond Griffin or Dr. Ashley Curtis, please contact The Griffin Center of Hair Restoration to schedule a consultation. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to get the latest news in hair restoration and research.