When you’re stressed out, you might notice your face breaking out. While most women are familiar with this annoying problem, it might be hard to notice the more subtle side effects of stress has on your hair.
A number of studies have shown the negative effects stress can have on the entire body, but the way it influences your hair is the lesser-known evil. We’ve watched as presidents go ever-grayer over their terms, leading many to believe that stress leads to silver streaks. Hair loss is also a common side effect of long-term stress. Here’s what you need to know before you let your stress get the best of your tresses.
I just want to pull my hair out!
You’ve probably experienced your fair share of stressful situations that make you want to “pull your hair out,” as the saying goes. As it turns out, there is a bit of truth behind this common phrase. Stress cause people to actually pull their hair out – it’s called trichotillomania, a psychological condition that causes an individual to pull out hair from their scalp, eyebrows and other places to deal with stress and anxiety. Plus, being worked up over a big project at work or worried about your relationship can even cause hair to fall out on its own.
However, it is important to keep in mind that stress in and of itself will not cause hair to fall out. A couple stressful days at work won’t make you bald next week – only severe, long-term stress will cause your hair to fall out because of the way it affects the rest of your body. Stress that causes you to lose sleep or changes your appetite is the kind that might affect your hair, because it changes the levels of your stress hormones.
There are two stress-related conditions that can cause your hair to fall out.
• Alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune disease in which white blood cells attack the hair follicle. This causes hair to fall out and stops hair growth from the attacked follicles. Although a variety of factors can cause this condition, severe stress is thought to be a key player.
• Telogen effluvium. Hair grows in phases. For two to three years, about 90 percent of the hairs on your head are growing about ½ an inch per month. After that, they go into a “resting phase” for three to four months before falling out and being replaced by a new one.
That’s in a healthy person. If you’re under extreme emotional or physical stress, it can push large numbers of hair into the resting phase prematurely, which makes them fall out. This can occur up to three months after a stressful time. However, it usually grows back in about six to nine months.
If you notice your hair falling out in huge chunks in the shower or while brushing, talk to your doc to see if there’s an underlying medical condition that needs treatment.
Going gray? Is stress at play?
Maybe the assumption that stress leads to gray and white hair came from our parents and teachers telling us to cut it out before we make them go gray. Or that a stressful job “took years off my life.” These phrases are mostly based in fiction, but there might be some truth to them.
It’s hard not to notice how a once-dark-haired president leaves office with a head of white hair. Most of us make the connection with stress and gray hair since, after four or eight years in the most stressful job in the country, presidents go gray.
Science tells us hair color is linked to DNA, and stress doesn’t affect DNA – it’s the inevitable damage (caused by aging) to DNA in cells that produce the pigment. However, some speculate that severe stress can accelerate the aging process, leading to white hair.
Decompress to save your tresses
Stress has the ability to wreak havoc on your hair, so what can you do? Well, first and foremost, chill out! It is important for your whole body to have a healthy outlet to either let off steam or decompress.
Stress will always be there, but once you figure out how to deal with it, it doesn’t need to ravage your hair and body. Only you know what works best to de-stress – whether it’s regular yoga sessions, chats with a friend or a few hours spent with a good book.