We've all been through incredible ups and downs, and as science has lately proven without a doubt: the body does keep score. And the way the body keeps score can be different for each person. For some, it manifests in gastro intestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome. For others, it can be skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. And for others, it can even cause hair loss.
The reason for this is that anxiety can cause a whole host of physical symptoms, one of which can be hair loss. When you're anxious, your body goes into "fight or flight" mode, which is a survival mechanism that's meant to help you in a dangerous situation. But when that mechanism is constantly triggered, it can start to take a toll on your body, and one of the ways it does that is through cutting corners on non-essential functions, like hair growth, as well as by releasing stress hormones that can further impact your health, like cortisol.
So, while anxiety itself doesn't directly cause hair loss, it can be a contributing factor, and if you're noticing that you're losing more hair than usual, it's worth considering whether stress might be the culprit.
Let's take a look at everything to do with anxiety and hair loss, from the causes to the treatments, so that you can start to get your anxiety under control and get your hair back to looking its best.
Anxiety and Hair Loss: The Science
There are a few different ways that anxiety can contribute to hair loss, let's take a look at each one and how it works.
1. Anxiety can cause an increase in the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that's released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It's also released in response to things like fear, anxiety, and low blood sugar. When cortisol levels are high, the body goes into "fight or flight" mode and starts to shut down non-essential functions like digestion and reproduction. One of the side effects of this is that the body starts to break down protein, including the protein in hair follicles.
Without protein, hair follicles can't grow and maintain themselves, which leads to hair loss. Your scalp needs protein to create new hair, so when cortisol levels are high, hair growth slows down or stops completely as well.
2. Anxiety can cause inflammation.
Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury or infection. It's a way of protecting the area and promoting healing. However, when inflammation occurs chronically (as it does in some people with anxiety), it can lead to a number of problems, including hair loss.
Chronic inflammation can damage hair follicles and prevent them from growing new hair. It can also lead to the production of inflammatory chemicals that can further damage hair follicles and cause hair loss. By reducing inflammation, you can help to protect your hair follicles and reduce the risk of hair loss.
3. Anxiety can cause changes in the way the body uses nutrients.
Nutrients are essential for the body to function properly. They're used for everything from building new cells to repairing damaged ones. When you're anxious, your body goes into "survival mode" and starts to conserve energy. This means that the body starts to use nutrients differently.
One of the ways that the body does this is by redirecting nutrients away from the hair follicles and towards more essential functions. This can lead to hair loss because the hair follicles don't have the nutrients they need to grow and maintain themselves.
4. Anxiety can impact the immune system.
The immune system is the body's defense against infection and illness. When it's functioning properly, it helps to keep you healthy. However, when the immune system is weakened, it can't protect the body as well, which can lead to a number of problems, including hair loss.
5. Anxiety can cause changes in hormone levels.
Hormones are chemicals that are produced by the body to regulate various functions. They can have a big impact on things like mood, appetite, and reproduction. When hormone levels are off, it can lead to a number of problems, including hair loss.
Testosterone is a hormone that's important for hair growth. When testosterone levels are too low, it can lead to hair loss. Anxiety can cause a decrease in testosterone levels, which can in turn lead to hair loss.
Progesterone is another hormone that's important for hair growth. It helps to keep the hair follicles healthy and promotes hair growth. When progesterone levels are too low, it can lead to hair loss, too, and anxiety unfortunately can cause low progesterone levels because progesterone is a stress hormone.
How Can You Treat Hair Loss From Anxiety?
Wouldn't it be nice if we could just snap our fingers and our anxiety would disappear? Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Anxiety is a complex mental health condition that often requires professional help to manage.
That said, there are plenty of things you can do to help ease your anxiety and improve your overall mental health. One of those things is to take care of your physical health, including your hair.
Hair loss can be a symptom of anxiety, but it can also be a sign of other underlying health conditions. If you're experiencing hair loss, it's important to see a doctor to rule out any other potential causes.
Once you've ruled out other causes, there are a few things you can do to help treat hair loss from anxiety. But make sure that your hair loss is in fact due to anxiety, otherwise your underlying health condition could go untreated.
Here are a few things you can do to help treat hair loss from anxiety:
1. Manage Stress
Again, sounds easier than it is. But, there are ways that you can build resilience and mental fortitude during turbulent times. When it comes to managing stress, every little bit helps - even if it doesn't seem like it at the time.
So where can you begin?
Meditation: The monks don't just do it for the 'gram. Meditation has been shown to be an effective way to manage stress and anxiety, as well as improve overall mental health. How can one start meditation? In the simplest terms, it just requires stillness and focus on the breath. But meditation combined with other relaxation techniques can be incredibly powerful.
Exercise: Exercise has also been shown to be an effective way to manage stress and anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins - the 'feel good' hormone - which can help improve mood and reduce stress. And no, this isn't just platitudes. Not only would exercise release endorphins, it would also serve as a form of distraction from the anxious thoughts running through your head. Plus, it can improve your quality of sleep, which is often disrupted in times of stress and anxiety.
Talk to Someone: When we're feeling stressed, it can be helpful to talk to someone who will understand and can offer helpful advice. This could be a friend, family member, therapist, or anyone else who you feel comfortable opening up to. Just talking about what's going on can help ease some of the stress and tension you're feeling.
2. Improve Your Diet
Your diet can impact your hair health, as well as your overall health. Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and protein can help support hair health.
There are also certain vitamins and minerals that are essential for hair health. These include:
Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps to produce sebum, which is an oily substance that helps keep hair healthy.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C helps to produce collagen, which is a protein that helps keep hair strong.
Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps to protect hair from damage.
B vitamins: B vitamins are essential for energy production and help to keep hair healthy.
Zinc: Zinc helps to keep the scalp healthy and can help with hair growth.
Iron: Iron helps to transport oxygen to the cells and is essential for hair growth.
3. Reduce Your Use of Harsh Chemicals
Harsh chemicals can damage hair, making it more likely to break and fall out. If you're using any hair products that contain harsh chemicals, try to reduce your use or switch to more natural products.
This includes shampoo, conditioner, hair styling products, and any other products that come into contact with your hair.
Some things to avoid in your products are:
- Artificial fragrances
- Propylene glycol
- Diethanolamine (DEA)
4. Avoid Hot Tools and Treatments
Heat can damage your hair, making it more brittle and more likely to break. If you use hot tools like curling irons or straighteners, try to use them less often or use them on a lower setting.
You should also avoid other heat treatments like hot rollers, hot oil treatments, and perms.
5. Don’t Pull or Rub Your Hair
Tugging or rubbing your hair too hard can cause it to break. Be gentle when brushing or styling your hair, and try to avoid hairstyles that pull on your hair too tight, like tight ponytails or cornrows.
Traction alopecia is a type of hair loss that can be caused by constantly wearing tight hairstyles, so if you notice your hair falling out in patches, you may want to try a different hairstyle.
6. Don't Over-Shampoo Your Hair
Shampooing your hair too often can strip it of natural oils, making it dry and brittle. Try shampooing your hair every other day or every two days, and use a conditioner to help keep your hair moisturized.
If your scalp is oily, you may need to shampoo more often, but be sure to use a gentle shampoo to avoid stripping your hair.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety can cause physical symptoms that can affect your hair, including hair loss. If you’re concerned about hair loss, talk to your doctor or a dermatologist. They can help you determine the cause of your hair loss and recommend treatment options.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.