COVID-19 has impacted the world in a completely unexpected way. Suddenly, many people must work from home, work in potentially dangerous conditions as essential workers, or not work at all. This immediate unexpected shift in our daily lives, plus having to engage in social distancing, is a perfect storm for excessive stress. While stress can be a completely healthy, natural response to adapt to a problem, excessive stress is maladaptive. Excessive stress can leave the body more vulnerable to infection and disease as well as manifest physical indicators. A key indicator of excessive stress is hair quality. Here are 3 ways that stress affects our hair.
Several factors contribute to hair loss, including genetics, but research shows that excessive stress is a major contributor to hair loss. Too much physical and emotional stress, like that caused by injury, illness, or surgery can lead to two types of hair loss: telogen effluvium and alopecia areata.
Telogen effluvium is the more common of the two. This is a less severe type of hair loss. The hair stops growing and becomes dormant. The hair falls out 2-3 months later. It could take between 6-9 months to grow back.
Alopecia areata occurs when white blood cells attack hair follicles. This can cause hair to fall out within weeks, typically in patches. Hair loss can involve the entire scalp and body hair. This type of hair loss can grow back independently, while treatment may be necessary.
Like hair loss, genetics also contributes to the onset of gray hair. Yet, the evidence reflects an interesting response to stress within the hair follicle. Research shows that when norepinephrine is released, during a stress response, our pigment-producing stem cells activate and begin to burn out. Once the pigment regenerating stem cells are gone, we will not be able to regenerate hair pigment anymore.
Stress contributes to insomnia, the inability to fall or stay asleep. A lack of sleep can lead to hair and scalp issues. Sleep allows the body time to heal, rest, and repair. Without proper sleep, your hair may not be able to replenish. Illness puts the body under excess stress to try and recover. During this time, nutrients that would often go to your hair and scalp may go to other parts of the body, leaving the scalp dry, itchy, and flakey. Stress can lead to pulling or scratching at the scalp, which can lead to permanent damage to the follicle and, ultimately, hair loss. Potentially due to anxiety.
Many people were already struggling with excessive stress before COVID-19, now stress levels are at an all-time high! We cannot control every aspect of our environment, but we can take steps to reduce the impact that stressors have on our daily lives. Breathe, meditate, exercise, pray, find ways to keep excessive stress to a minimum. Your hair and your health will thank you for it.