By Diana Rodriguez
When you’re under stress, you may notice a lot of physical symptoms — feeling anxious or exhausted, having trouble concentrating, and even getting sick with a headache or upset stomach. Stress can also be a cause of hair loss. When stress has you “pulling out your hair,” as the expression goes, you could be literally doing just that.
Telogen effluvium is the term for hair loss that occurs temporarily as a result of some trauma, stress, or shock to your body. Telogen hairs are one type of hair, characterized by the end of the hair being shaped like a bulb, and effluvium means to flow out.
Some hair loss is normal, but telogen effluvium results in excessive hair loss due to a disruption in the natural growth and rest cycle of hair. Generally, between 80 and 90 percent of hair follicles on the scalp are actively growing, with the other 10 to 20 percent in the resting phase. Many events can disrupt this balance and result in temporary hair loss, typically seen as hair that falls out in clumps when you brush, wash, or style your locks.
Stress is known to be a trigger for telogen effluvium and risk factors that can cause this type of stress include:
Pregnancy and childbirth
A significant physical injury
Malnutrition from an unhealthy diet or excessive fad dieting
A chronic illness
Acute illness with fever
Suddenly stopping the use of oral contraceptives
Chronic emotional stress
A surgical procedure
Any physical stressor or trauma that can disrupt hormone levels in the body can trigger telogen effluvium hair loss. Some, like pregnancy, are self-limiting, and your hair will re-grow at normal rates within a matter of months after childbirth. But continual stress at work or in a relationship, financial worries, parenting problems, and any other type of emotional stress can have a major impact on the entire body, including the hair follicles.
Studies performed on animals support the theory that chronic stress is a major contributor to chronic telogen effluvium. It’s thought that stress somehow changes the chemistry of the hair follicles, resulting in too many hair follicles in the resting phase at one time. But if you can reduce stress, you can restore the natural cycle and promote healthy hair growth.
Stopping Telogen Effluvium
Telogen effluvium will actually resolve on its own once the stress or trauma is over and the body begins to get back to normal. But even if you don’t need treatment, you can take better care of yourself to help your hair to get back to its normal cycle:
Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and proteins to get plenty of nutrients
Take a vitamin and mineral supplement if your doctor finds that you have any deficiencies, like B12, iron, or folic acid
Treat hair gently, especially when styling and using heat appliances
Reduce Stress to Reduce Hair Loss
If chronic stress is a problem, bringing your stress levels under control can help restore your body’s natural hair growth process. You can reduce stress with these lifestyle steps:
Start a regular exercise program.
Learn relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and guided imagery.
Take time each day to relax by doing a fun activity or listening to soothing music.
Take a yoga class or practice postures at home.
Become more socially involved with friends and family rather than withdrawing because of stress.