Emotional stress, distinct from physical stress, can have multiple effects on the body, both internally and externally. One such effect is hair loss.
Can stress cause hair loss and will it grow back?
Stress is well known to cause hair loss. However, this hair loss is unlikely to be permanent and will grow back. The hair should start to grow back roughly 6 months after the stress has resolved.
It is important to distinguish between physical and emotional stress when it comes to hair loss. While both can cause hair loss, physical stress can often be quicker to address and fix than emotional causes of stress. Physical stress can include severe illnesses, childbirth and extreme changes to diets.
Does emotional stress cause hair loss?
Emotional stress, such as loss of a loved one, work-related pressure, financial troubles or parenting problems, can cause hair loss. These changes in mood can trigger hormonal imbalances, which lead to hair loss, often through telogen effluvium.
During periods of extreme emotional stress, telogen effluvium can cause the hair to fall out. Telogen effluvium is the most common type of stress-induced hair loss but is not permanent. Hair often grows back within 2 or 3 months.
Emotional stress can also trigger a specific type of alopecia, called alopecia areata. This is characterised by sudden bald patches on the scalp, which can spread to cover the entire head. Again, hair loss caused by alopecia areata is not permanent and often grows back, although sometimes treatment is required.
Does stress increase DHT?
Stress does cause hair loss, however, it is not thought to directly increase DHT levels. Instead, it affects your hair through other mechanisms – such as prompting your body to conserve nutrients for core functions, or pushing hair into the resting phase too quickly.
In one study, army recruits were deprived of sleep, increasing both physical and emotional stress levels for them. Their hormone levels were monitored. While their testosterone levels had dropped, their SHBG levels (of which DHT is one) remained consistent.
Can heartbreak cause hair loss?
Heartbreak is the most common cause of hair loss due to emotional stress or trauma. It can last for as long as the heartbreak goes on for, plus an additional 7 or 8 months for the hair to grow back properly.
This is because the emotional stress – the heartbreak – will shift hair follicles into the resting phase too quickly, preventing them from growing properly. The hair then moves into the shedding phase and starts again. However, if the emotional trauma is not addressed, the cycle happens again before the hair can grow properly.
Once the emotional stress has been resolved or is being resolved, the hair can start to regrow. However, this can take roughly 7 to 8 months, as all the hair that was pushed into the resting phase early needs to shed before it can regrow.
Can PTSD make your hair fall out?
Those with PTSD will find that their stress hormones never return to normal levels and that their bodies choose to conserve energy and nutrients for essential functions of the body, preventing hair from regrowing once it is shed.
Those with PTSD suffer from being stuck in a fight-or-flight mode permanently, where loud noises or sudden changes in lighting can cause them to panic or become extremely distressed.
The effects of existing in fight-or-flight mode do not just affect their behaviour, but also the internal hormonal levels in the body. If the body is stuck in fight-or-flight, it will choose to preserve any nutrients (i.e. vitamins and minerals) for essential core functions of the body. As the hair is deemed ‘non-essential’, hair follicles do not get the nutrients they need to produce hair follicles. This means the hair will shed without being replaced, ultimately causing hair loss.
Can anxiety make your hair fall out?
Anxiety itself does not directly cause hair loss. Instead, it is the stressful situations that those with anxiety encounter that can cause the hair to fall out. The amount that falls out depends on the severity of the stress and frequency of the interactions.
Anxiety is the body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. Though everyone feels anxious occasionally, those who suffer from anxiety disorders suffer such distress that it interferes with their ability to lead a normal life.
As with other emotionally stressful situations, anxiety can trigger telogen effluvium or alopecia areata – which will ultimately cause hair loss.
If you think you are suffering from hair loss as a result of emotional stress, it is best to consult your doctor. Your doctor may refer to you to a counsellor or therapist, to address the underlying cause of the emotional stress – which should help prevent any further hair loss, as well as allow the hair to regrow through the resolution of the source of emotional stress.