Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/22/2021
Noticed more hairs on your brush, pillow or around the shower drain than normal? Dealing with hair loss is never fun, especially when you’re not sure what’s causing it.
However, it’s also possible for a range of other factors to cause and contribute to hair loss.
One of these factors is emotional stress. If you’re feeling overly stressed due to work, your personal life or anything else, it’s possible that this stress could contribute either to mild hair thinning, or significant hair loss.
Below, we’ve explained how and why stress can cause you to lose hair. We’ve also looked at a range of treatment options that can help you regrow any hair you lose due to stress.
Contrary to popular belief, stress is not linked to male pattern baldness— the form of hair loss that causes you to permanently lose hair around your hairline, temples and the crown of your scalp.
However, stress can trigger and potentially worsen a form of temporary hair loss called telogen effluvium. Note that telogen effluvium is different from androgenetic alopecia.
Telogen effluvium affects your hair by interrupting the natural hair growth cycle.
Normally, there are four different growth phases during the hair cycle as it grows from below the skin to its full length, then falls out to be replaced by a new hair:
The first phase is the anagen phase, during which the hair grows to its full length.
The second phase is the catagen phase, during which the old, fully grown hair follicle detaches from the skin.
The third phase is the telogen phase, also known as the resting phase, during which a new hair starts to grow from the follicle to replace the old one.
The fourth phase is the exogen phase, during which the old hair falls out, with the new hair growing in its place.
Just like your skin and nails, your hair is constantly undergoing this growth cycle. We’ve covered each phase of the hair growth cycle in more detail in our guide to the hair growth process.
Each phase of the hair growth cycle varies in length. Hairs usually stay in the anagen phase for up to six years during which they grow to their full length.
About 90 percent of your hairs are in the anagen phase at any time, meaning that most of your hair is constantly growing.
Telogen effluvium affects your hair follicles in the telogen phase. Normally, about five percent to 10 percent of your hairs are in the telogen phase at any one time.
With telogen effluvium, as much as 30 percent of your hair can suddenly enter the telogen phase, resulting in hair shedding.
If you’re experiencing hair loss due to stress, you’ll usually notice the classic symptoms of hair loss:
Extra hairs on your pillowcase and bedding
More stray hairs on your shower or bathroom floor
Lots of stray hairs in your shower drain catch
Less density and a thin look to your hair, especially under bright light
Hair loss is often subtle, meaning you might not notice it day to day until you look at yourself in a mirror or see your hair in a photograph.
If you’re worried that you might have hair loss due to stress, it may help to take regular photos of your hair to track any changes in thickness over time.
You can also try counting the hairs that you lose. It’s normal to lose about 100 hairs per day. If you have telogen effluvium, you may lose an average of about 300, making it easy to detect a change in your hair shedding.
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There are many forms of hair loss related to stress. If you notice your hair falling out after a traumatic event, surgery, or change in medicine, you could be experiencing one of the following types of stress hair loss.
Telogen effluvium is a form of temporary hair loss that’s related to shocking events or changes to the body.
It can occur after surgery or major physical trauma, during periods of illness, or at times when you feel extremely stressed due to a specific event.
Although the exact prevalence of telogen effluvium isn’t known, it’s generally considered to be quite a common form of hair loss.
Hair loss from telogen effluvium isn’t immediate, meaning you usually won’t start to lose hair right after a traumatic or stressful event.
Hair loss from telogen effluvium usually begins approximately three months after a stressful or traumatic event.
It’s often quite abrupt and can involve sudden, significant hair shedding that seemingly comes without any warning.
Hair loss from telogen effluvium can last for several months.
Telogen effluvium can potentially be caused by physiological and psychological stress. Some of the common causes of telogen effluvium include:
Severe psychological stress, such as stress caused by an overly demanding job, family difficulties, the loss of a loved one or other stressful, traumatic events.
Physical trauma, such as injuries from an accident, sports injuries, concussions, deep cuts or broken bones. Telogen effluvium can also occur after surgery.
Infections, fever, illnesses and nutritional deficiencies such as iron deficiency.
Sudden changes in hormone production and hormone levels.
Sudden changes in diet and/or extreme caloric restriction caused by crash dieting, as well as extreme weight loss.
Thyroid conditions, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, as well as certain autoimmune diseases.
Medications, including certain anticoagulants and anti-hypertensive drugs.
Trichotillomania, or hair-pulling disorder, is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder in which a person repeatedly pulls out their own hair, causing thinning and hair loss.
Although trichotillomania isn’t directly caused by stress, many people with trichotillomania find that stressful situations are a common trigger for their hair-pulling behavior.
Others note that pulling their hair helps them to relax when they’re feeling stressed.
There are several major differences between telogen effluvium (hair loss potentially triggered by stress) and hair loss from male pattern baldness:
First, hair loss from male pattern baldness is typically permanent. In contrast, almost all of the hair you lose from telogen effluvium will grow back, provided the primary cause of the telogen effluvium is treated.
Second, hair loss from male pattern baldness looks different from hair loss that’s triggered by stress. Male pattern baldness typically causes a receding hairline, balding on the crown or other baldness patterns. Telogen effluvium causes diffuse thinning on the entire scalp.
Third, telogen effluvium is not related to androgen hormones such as DHT. This means that some treatments for male pattern baldness, such as finasteride, aren’t effective as treatments for stress-related hair loss.
Fifth, If your hair loss is caused by stress, you may also lose body hair. Telogen effluvium hair loss — the type of hair loss linked to stress — typically affects your scalp and may appear as patchy hair loss. However, it can also cause you to shed more body hair or notice less hair on your body than you normally would.
If you’re starting to lose your hair and aren’t sure whether it’s caused by stress or male pattern baldness, it’s best to talk to a healthcare professional.
Most dermatologists can diagnose telogen effluvium using one or several tests, including a hair pull test.
Because telogen effluvium has a variety of potential causes, there’s no one hair loss treatment that works for everyone.
If your hair loss is caused by a one-off stressful or traumatic event, such as a physical accident, surgery or psychologically stressful event, your hair will typically grow back on its own over the course of several months.
Because hair loss from stress isn’t directly caused by the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), medications like finasteride, which works by blocking the production of DHT, aren’t effective at stopping or reversing this type of hair loss.
Most of the time, any hair that you lose due to stress will grow back over time. If your hair isn’t growing quick enough or it hasn’t grown back fully, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication such as minoxidil (commonly sold as Rogaine®) to speed up and improve your hair growth.
Minoxidil works by increasing the blood supply to your hair follicles and prompting your hair to enter the anagen, or growth, phase of its cycle.
Studies have found that it’s highly effective at promoting hair growth, although it can often take several months to see results.
Changing your lifestyle and habits can often help to reduce stress. If you often feel stressed, try using the techniques below to limit your exposure to sources of stress and manage stress when you experience it:
Recognize when you’re stressed. Take note of your stress response, whether it’s difficulty sleeping, feeling low in energy or something else. Being able to identify when you’re stressed can help you to track your stress-reduction progress.
If work is stressing you, take steps to cope and manage. Work is a very common source of stress. If you’re feeling stressed at work, there are numerous steps toward stress management that you may be able to take to manage and reduce your stress over time. The American Psychological Association (APA) has a detailed list of steps for coping with stress at work that you can use to manage workplace stress and develop a less stressful work environment.
Exercise. Exercise doesn’t just keep you physically healthy — it also causes your body to produce smaller quantities of stress hormones such as cortisol, all while ramping up its production of stress-reducing endorphins. Over the long term, exercise can also improve your self-image, which may result in its own benefits. If you haven’t been physically active recently, there’s no need to overdo things — a 20-minute walk is usually enough to reduce stress and improve mood.
Use relaxation techniques. Simple, at-home relaxation techniques, like mindfulness meditation and breath focus, can help to make you feel less stressed. This guide from Harvard Health lists six techniques that you can use to relax and relieve stress.
Eat a healthy diet. Eating a balanced diet is important for your wellness in general, and can reduce stressors on your body that come with eating unhealthy foods. Learn about what to eat for hair growth and why a healthy diet is important.
Get support from friends and family. Sharing your feelings and concerns with others may help to relieve stress. Try reaching out to a trusted friend or family member to let them know what’s troubling you — there’s a good chance they may be able to help.
If your stress is related to a financial issue, get help. Financial difficulties are some of the most common sources of stress, affecting as much as 76 percent of all American adults. If you’re stressed because of a financial issue, consider getting help. You can also contact a financial planner or credit counseling service for help with improving your finances.
If your hair loss is caused by chronic stress, understanding and coping with the stress in healthier ways may help you to regrow some or all of the hair that you’ve lost.
This is something that you’ll need to discuss with your healthcare provider.
It’s normal to experience some level of stress in life. An occasional stressful day or a bad week might make you feel unhappy, but it generally won’t have any effect on your hairline.
However, chronic stress or severe stress caused by physiological or psychological trauma may cause you to temporarily lose some or all of your hair.
If this happens to you, the best approach is to talk to your healthcare provider and treat the underlying cause of the stress.
Over time, it’s normal for hair loss from stress to grow back naturally. If you’re noticing your stress causes chronic hair loss, hair loss treatments such as minoxidil may be helpful.