Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/11/2021
Over the course of a lifetime, many people will experience anxiety be it from career issues, increased financial obligations, relationship problems, illness or injury or any number of difficult life events.
Such stressful events can result in myriad symptoms, including aches and pains, chest pain or a racing heart, fatigue or trouble sleeping, headaches, dizziness or shaking, high blood pressure and stomach or digestive problems.
Stress can also lead to depression, panic attacks and anxiety.
Another potential symptom of stress and anxiety: hair loss.
We know — kinda messed up, right? You can lose your hair because you’re anxious, and you can be anxious because you’re losing your hair.
It can feel like a vicious cycle, or like a snowball rolling down a hill.
Luckily, despite the complex relationship between anxiety and hair loss, there are some things you can do to make your anxiety-related hair loss a little less…well, anxiety-inducing.
Oh, also, quick pro-tip: Take a deep breath. A lot of this hair loss will work itself out on its own. But more on that in a minute.
Hair loss occurs when your normal hair growth pattern is interrupted. This can happen for a variety of reasons — everything from genetics, to various illnesses and, you guessed it — anxiety.
On average, healthy hair grows at a rate of 0.35 mm per day; this adds up to about a half an inch a month, or six inches a year.
And speaking of hair growth, there are three phrases to the hair growth cycle. At any given time, your hair is in one of these three phases:
The anagen phase
The catagen phase
The telogen phase
The anagen phase, or growth phase, lasts two to six years. At any given time, between 85 percent and 90 percent of hair follicles are in this phase.
After this, the hair transitions to the catagen phase, also known as the regression phase. In this phase, the hair has reached its maximum growth and is preparing to transition into the telogen phase.
It’s a quick one, generally lasting around three to six weeks.
The resting, or telogen, phase lasts about three to five months. After this phase, the scalp sheds dead or inactive hair. Ten percent of your hair is in this phase at any given time.
That means that some hair loss every day is expected. C’est la vie and whatnot.
About 100 hairs a day are typically shed, more so with shampooing or other hair-care practices.
As we said above, the relationship between anxiety and hair loss is pretty complex, and there are still quite a few questions about why and to what extent the two are related.
However, what we do know is that anxiety absolutely causes hair loss. Bummer.
What we also know — and this is the good news — is that most of this hair loss can either be treated, or goes away on its own once your anxiety has been addressed and treated.
Generally, there are three types of hair loss associated with anxiety. They are:
One condition is called telogen effluvium. It occurs when physiologic stressors cause a large number of hairs that are in the growing phase of the hair cycle to quickly enter the resting phase.
Next, telogen hair growth stops for one to six months, though the average is three months. The telogen phase is unnoticeable.
When the hairs begin the anagen phase, the hairs in the telogen phase are forced from the follicle, and hair shedding occurs.
Another stress and anxiety related hair loss condition is called trichotillomania. It is considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
People that suffer from trichotillomania feel a strong urge to pull hair from their head, eyebrows or other parts of the body.
Doing so can be a way to reduce stress and anxiety, with some patients reporting feeling as such before the hair-pulling event.
Others pull their hair to deal with feelings of boredom.
Severe stress is also thought to contribute to alopecia areata. Here, the body’s immune system attacks its hair follicles, which can cause hair loss in patches, or in some cases, cause total hair loss.
Of course, some everyday hair loss is normal. But when it’s more than 100 or so a day, then it’s considered excessive hair shedding.
And folks under a lot of stress, from which anxiety can derive, may experience excessive hair shedding for a long time.
Alopecia areata is actually clinically defined as an autoimmune disease, which means your immune system, for whatever reason (scientists still don’t know what causes it), decides your hair follicles are the enemy, and attacks them.
This results in hair loss. In most people, alopecia areata presents itself in the form of quarter-shaped patches of hair loss, but it can also result in everything from diffuse hair loss to total hair loss, depending on severity.
Anxiety comes into the picture because even though the healthcare community isn’t quite sure what causes it, one of the triggers of alopecia areata appears to be anxiety and stress.
The good news is that while hair loss can be a frustrating and distressing process, there are ways to remedy it.
Some involve being patient and letting time pass before your hair grows back, some involve medications to stimulate hair growth, while others rely on certain mental health treatments to target the underlying stressors that may be causing your anxiety and subsequent hair loss.
If the cause of your hair loss is telogen effluvium, and the stressor that may be causing it is short-lived, you may see your hair shedding begin to subside about six to nine months after your stressor began.
Some people have longer-term stressors that can cause telogen effluvium to persist. In this case, speaking with a healthcare provider can help sufferers identify the causes of their stress and come up with an action plan to alleviate them.
In some cases, a topical medication can help. Recommended for men, minoxidil, which increases blood flow to the scalp and promotes hair growth, may help hair regrowth after chronic telogen effluvium hair loss.
It may be used as either a solution or foam.
Biotin, a vitamin, is also thought to help promote hair growth.
Patchy alopecia areata may be treated with various hair loss medications. These include injections of corticosteroids given four to eight weeks apart by a dermatologist, topical corticosteroids applied by you once or twice a day, and minoxidil.
It is very important to speak with your healthcare provider for a personalized evaluation, diagnosis, and hair loss treatment plan if you believe you have alopecia areata.
Trichotillomania is often treated with the help of therapy. There are several forms that may help hair-pullers.
Habit reversal training. A form of behavior therapy, this treatment helps hair-pullers learn to recognize situations that trigger their hair-pulling and teaches them how to substitute other behaviors instead.
Cognitive therapy. Here, a therapist may help you identify and look into distorted beliefs you may have connected to your hair pulling.
By themselves, both hair loss and anxiety can be pretty devastating things. Combine them together and it’s like a buffet of suck. A whole smorgasbord of suck.
Even though anxiety and hair loss are undeniably intertwined in several different ways, the good news is that if you’re experiencing hair loss as a result of anxiety, chances are, it isn’t permanent and won’t have any major effect on your long-term hair health.
Better yet, the majority of this hair loss tends to stop over time, once the root of your anxiety is addressed and treated. And better even yet, if you are looking for things to help mitigate the effects of anxiety-related hair loss, products like minoxidil are available to help speed up the healing and regrowth process.
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