Do you know that familiar line from the Great Depression, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?” There is a corollary relative to stress-related hair loss: the more you worry about losing your hair, the more likely it is you will lose some of your hair.
So just quit worrying and your hair will grow back? Perhaps. But this is a complex situation. If it was a simple matter, hair loss clinics and hair loss surgeons wouldn’t be doing such brisk business.
There are many things that can lead to many hair loss conditions. In the COVID-19 pandemic, people who experienced a high fever as a symptom very often had noticeable hair loss a few months later – about 22 percent of those who were hospitalized from the virus lost hair, according to a study published in the British medical journal, the Lancet (“6-month consequences of COVID-19 I patients discharged from hospital: a cohort study,” Huang, et al. 2021).
Other causes of hair loss are genetics, as in male and female pattern hair loss, as well as hormonal (childbirth, menopause) and dietary (starvation, yo-yo dieting) disruptions. Sometimes, hair loss is a way your body tells you it needs its nutrients for other, more life-sustaining things like brain, heart, kidney, and liver functions. Yes, our bodies treat hair as a nice-but-not-necessary component.
But stress is real, it’s physical, and it leads to all kinds of physiological problems. According to the American Psychological Association, “the consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body.” That toll can include hypertension, heart attack, and stroke – and hair loss.
What bears noting is that almost all of these factors, on their own, can lead to some hair loss AND stress. So stressing about it can make hair loss even worse. If you just had a baby and now your hair is thinning – why wouldn’t you be stressed? On a crash diet to fit into a wedding gown? Better get a good veil and perhaps some hair extensions.
Or, as it happened more frequently in the pandemic era, because the fever-related hair loss doesn’t occur until three or four months later, the person with clumps of follicles in the shower drain might not connect the two dots; there is little correlation to intuit causation. They think this is how age-related thinning occurs, or some horrible new hair-eating disease has befallen them.
All of that, my friends, is called stressing out.
Fortunately, stress-related hair loss (called telogen effluvium, or TE), as well as hair loss caused by flu fevers and even nutrition deficiencies, can be reversed. Eliminate the cause and hair will grow back eventually.
Alas, stress management varies from individual to individual. It’s easy to say, “calm down” or “get a therapist.” But it’s far more difficult in practice, particularly if the causes of your stress have not changed. Suffice it to say the daily health habits that contribute to healthy skin, healthy hair, and a healthy body also promote a healthy, unworried outlook. So eat fruits and vegetables, consume more fish and plant proteins than beef, and incorporate long, meditative walks into your day – and go to a gym too if you find that keeps you engaged in healthy, stress-reducing physical exercise.
Calm the stress if you can – and stop the stress-related hair loss.