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How Stress Affects your Hair (And what to do about it!)

We've heard over and over again that stress can be a killer on the body, but how does it affect our hair? Hair loss and hair damage are a serious issue for men and women all over the world. Stress can cause hair loss, but low self-esteem and lack of confidence caused by hair loss can make us even more susceptible to everyday stresses, creating a stress cycle that can feel impossible to break. Luckily, de-stressing practices and habits can be adopted into your daily routine easily by making small, simple adjustments.

Let’s take a closer look at how stress can affect hair growth, and how we can manage stress to avoid hair loss.

 

What is Cortisol?

Cortisol, the stress hormone, is produced any time our “fight or flight” response is triggered in the brain. While it can be helpful to protect ourselves times of physical danger, in our daily lives, this response is triggered through our thoughts, fears, and struggles that don’t require a physical reaction. This leads to an over-abundance of cortisol in our bodies, which can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.

How do Stress and Cortisol affect hair follicles?

Loss of appetite

Cortisol works to redirect the body's focus to protect itself from outside harm, which compromises our immune system temporarily to be able to utilize our energy stores to either fight or get away from danger. The problem with everyday stress, however, is that this usually temporary response is sustained, redirecting energy from the body’s ability to heal and grow for longer periods of time. This can make us more susceptible to illnesses, and can exacerbate existing health problems. Alopecia, for example, is a disorder of the immune system that attacks hair follicles. While alopecia is not caused by stress, stress can make the condition worse, and the loss of hair that alopecia causes can feed into that stress cycle, making it harder and harder to recover.

Weakened immune system

Cortisol works to redirect the body’s focus to protect itself from outside harm, which compromises our immune system temporarily to be able to utilize our energy stores to either fight or get away from danger. The problem with everyday stress, however, is that this usually temporary response is sustained, redirecting energy from the body’s ability to heal and grow for longer periods of time. This can make us more susceptible to illnesses, and can exacerbate existing health problems. Alopecia, for example, is a disorder of the immune system that attacks hair follicles. While alopecia is not caused by stress, stress can make the condition worse, and the loss of hair that alopecia causes can feed into that stress cycle, making it harder and harder to recover.

Psychological effects

While some symptoms of stress are purely physical, others manifest psychologically. trichotillomania is a psychological disorder that causes a person to pick or pull the hair on their face, head, or body. this disorder is common among people who have a hard time managing stress, anxiety, trauma, or negative emotions. this kind of physical harm to hair follicles can potentially lead to permanent damage. while this is a condition best left to be managed by a professional, taking steps to manage stress in a healthy way on a daily basis can improve overall mood and ability to avoid anxiety.

 

How To Manage Stress Levels to Avoid Hair Loss

While these are only a few examples of how stress can cause hair loss or make it worse, there are ways to help manage stress to prevent furthering damage and improve hair health:

  1. Daily physical exercise: Daily exercise boosts endorphins and serotonin hormones to counterbalance stress. It also boosts blood circulation, carrying necessary nutrients to the skin and hair.
  2. Connecting with loved ones: Feelings of connection and love boost oxytocin, a hormone that calms the body and reduces the effects of cortisol on our immune systems.
  3. Eating healthy foods or taking supplements as recommended: Nearly all of our nutrients come from the foods we eat, so consuming a healthy balance of nourishing, nutrient-dense foods like greens, veggies, and healthy fats can boost our immune systems, help manage weight, and keep our skin and hair radiant.
  4. Try Aromatherapy: Natural aromas from essential oils like lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus can have a calming effect on the mind and body. Try using these scents in an oil diffuser at home or at the office. Feeling sluggish or low-energy? Before having another cup of cortisol-producing coffee, try diffusing peppermint oil or a citrus oil like lemon, bergamot, or orange to boost energy!
  5. Take time to simply relax: this may seem redundant, but actively setting aside time each day to rest and focus on something you enjoy lowers your body’s production of cortisol. Whether it’s a few minutes of meditation, journaling, playing a musical instrument, or taking time for self-care (face masks, deep conditioners for hair, or a relaxing body treatment), a few minutes of calming the mind and body can have lasting effects on the body’s ability to recover and recharge.
  6. Seeking professional therapy or counseling: Available on apps and over video chat, professional therapy is now accessible to nearly everyone. Professional counselors are trained to help you heal through anxieties and traumas that can affect stress levels, all from the comfort of your own home.

While everyday stress can be often unavoidable, taking time to practice healthy stress management skills will benefit not only your state of mind, but your health and your hair.