Does your hair feel thinner during times of severe stress? If it does, you can rest assured that you’re not imagining things. According to medical research, stress can cause hair loss. So if you want to keep as much hair on your head as possible, it’s essential to maintain your happiness and keep your stress levels to a minimum.
The Science Behind Hair Growth
Hair plays a significant role throughout lore. From Samson and his power-imbued hair to Repunzel and her long braids, hair has always been the stuff of magic and mystery. However, current research has cracked the code about human hair. It turns out that there’s no sorcery behind how hair grows. Hair growth is all about science.
What is Hair Made of?
Human hair is not alive. The hair shaft that we see and touch is made up of dead, keratinized cells that have been pushed up and out of the hair follicle. On the other hand, the hair follicle and scalp are living structures responsible for producing and nourishing the hair shaft.
The scalp contains blood vessels and nerves that provide nutrients and sensation to the hair and skin. Furthermore, the scalp includes sweat glands, sebaceous glands, and hair follicles. These follicles are structures responsible for producing hair.
Therefore, while the hair strands are not alive, they’re affected by a variety of factors, such as diet, medical issues, environmental factors, and chemical treatments, which can impact the hair’s health and growth.
Your Hair’s Growth Cycle
A person grows and loses hair strands through a natural growth cycle. The growth cycle of hair consists of three primary phases (01):
- Anagen Phase
- Catagen Phase
- Telogen Phase
During the anagen phase, which may last from two to eight years, hair grows from the follicle. The length of this phase determines the maximum length of hair growth. At any give time, about 90% of the average person’s hair is in the anagen phase. In the catagen phase, which lasts about two to six weeks, the follicles shrink, and hair growth slows.
Finally, during the telogen phase, which lasts about three months, the hair is shed, and the follicle remains dormant until the next anagen phase begins. New hair then replaces the hair shed during the telogen phase, starting the cycle anew.
Good overall health and nutrition allow hair to grow at its peak rate and maintain its natural growth cycle. Each strand of hair on the head can be at any differing point of the growth cycle, limiting the shedding that can occur at once.
What is Typical Hair Loss?
On average, it is normal to lose between 50 to 100 hairs per day as part of the typical hair-shedding process from the growth cycle. (02) However, if hair loss exceeds this amount, it may indicate an underlying condition such as alopecia or telogen effluvium.
Alopecia is a condition that causes hair loss and is due to a variety of factors, some of which include genetics, autoimmune disorders, or hormonal imbalances. Telogen effluvium is a condition where atypical hair shedding occurs due to a disruption in the hair growth cycle. This can be caused by severe nutritional deficiencies, certain medications, illness – or significant stress.
The Link Between Happiness and Hair Growth
The connection between mental and physical health is undeniable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example, depression ups the risk for chronic medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Similarly, these same chronic conditions can increase the risk of mental health problems. (03)
As evidence of this connection, a study was published in the American Psychological Association’s research journal Health Psychology. The study of 15,000 participants found that participants with severe cases of anxiety and depression were: (04)
- 65% are more likely to have heart condition
- 50% are more likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure
- 87% are more likely to develop arthritis
So, because of this close interplay between mental and physical health, it’s no surprise that mental health can affect hair growth.
How Does Stress Impact Hair Growth?
Stress is a common experience that can affect many aspects of our health, including our hair growth. Stress can affect hair growth in a variety of ways, including altering the hair growth cycle, causing hair loss or thinning, and affecting the quality and texture of the hair.
Stress Disrupts the Hair Growth Cycle
One of the ways that stress can affect hair growth is by affecting the hair growth cycle. During periods of stress, the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol, which can interfere with the normal functioning of the hair follicle. Stress can push the hair follicle to enter the telogen phase earlier than usual, leading to increased hair shedding and thinning.
Hair Follicles Under Stress
Experiencing chronic stress can also directly impact the hair follicle’s health. For example, stress can cause inflammation in the scalp, which can damage the hair follicle and inhibit hair growth. Stress can also affect the blood flow to the scalp, impacting the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the hair follicle, leading to weaker and thinner hair.
Stress Weakens Your Strands
In addition to affecting the hair follicle, stress can also impact the quality and texture of the hair. Stress can cause the hair to become dry, brittle, and more prone to breakage and split ends. This can be exacerbated by hair care practices such as excessive heat styling or chemical treatments, which can further damage the hair.
It is also important to note that stress can exacerbate existing hair conditions, such as alopecia areata, which causes patchy hair loss. Stress can trigger or worsen this condition, leading to more severe hair loss.
Stress May Cause An Urge to Pull Out Hair
Have you ever heard anyone say they were so anxious that they were “pulling out their hair”? The saying stems from a condition called trichotillomania. This condition is an irresistible urge to pull out hair from the scalp, eyebrows, or other body parts. For people diagnosed with trichotillomania, pulling out hair reduces feelings of anxiety, discomfort, or frustration. (05)
Uncontrolled stress adversely impacts health in general. Specifically, though, it may also cause you to lose hair. Happiness can’t cure everything, but it may help prevent hair loss. In short, managing stress and fostering happiness can prevent or slow hair loss.
Tips for Cultivating Happiness and Healthy Hair
Managing stress is vital to maintaining healthy hair growth. The following are several strategies that can help to reduce stress and promote healthy hair growth.
Exercise. Not only does regular physical help to manage stress, but it also improves blood flow to the scalp, promoting healthy hair growth.
Mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness practices such as meditation can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation, which may benefit hair health.
Adequate sleep. Getting enough sleep is essential for overall health, including hair health. Sleep deprivation can increase stress levels and lead to hair loss.
Healthy diet. A healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, and biotin can help to promote healthy hair growth.
Avoiding harsh hair treatments. Excessive heat styling, chemical treatments, and tight hairstyles can all damage the hair and exacerbate stress-related hair loss.
Seeking professional help. If you are experiencing excessive hair loss or other hair concerns, it is important to seek professional help from a dermatologist or hair specialist who can get to the root of the issue. They’ll help you find a solution that works for you, whether it’s a topical treatment, oral solution, or a combination of both. Furthermore, your mental health can also benefit from speaking with a therapist to help manage chronic stress.
Managing stress and fostering happiness isn’t just good for your hair, it’s good for your health. Making lifestyle changes that create calmness, promote physical health, and allow for sufficient rest encourages happiness and keeps more hair on your head.
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