One of the most unfortunate side effects of stress and anxiety is the thinning or loss of your hair. Anxiety can be a result of long-term stress, which is a condition that many people in today’s high-pressure entrepreneurship world find themselves under.
Trying to juggle personal life with the demands of running a business can put a lot of pressure on an individual in ways that do not manifest themselves in the short-term, but that are detrimental to various aspects of their health and body over a longer period of time, such as their hair.
While symptoms of stress can include headaches, muscle pain, panic attacks, and increased blood pressure just to mention a few of the more obvious ones, long-term, ongoing stress can lead to heart attacks, strokes, digestive problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, diabetes, and of course hair loss.
Stress conditions leading to hair loss
One very visible sign of hair loss is a condition known as trichotillomania, and this is where someone is in such a state of high anxiety and stress that they start to pull out their hair without being aware of it.
It is noticeable to those around what is happening, but for the person concerned they do not know they are even doing it, which makes this condition more distressing.
Stress-weakened hair, or to give it the medical term, telogen effluvium, is where more hairs fall out of the head than is normal. People with this condition will often find a few hairs on their pillow in the morning upon waking up, and again, more hairs in the shower when washing their hair.
With this condition, it becomes more noticeable because the amount of hair that is lost is over and above the norm. This can happen over a period of time, and differs from the third most common condition, which is alopecia.
Alopecia areata is a very upsetting condition because clumps of hair are lost in a very short period of time. This hair loss around the scalp region affects a smaller percent of the population who are suffering from stress, however, and has other factors that underpin the loss.
Regardless of the cause of hair loss, it is important that you speak to a doctor or medical practitioner to get advice and the proper treatment. At the same time, there are also steps that you might be able to take to minimise the effect of stress and anxiety on your body so that you work better and are able to help reduce or prevent hair loss.
1. Make sure you get enough sleep
Restless nights and broken sleep patterns are a symptom of stress; are you worried about achieving targets and meeting deadlines or concerned about losing a large contract?
Rather than rely on sleeping tablets to get you through the night, you need to look at the cause of your restless night. Better planning, preparation and time management can help you to prioritize your workload or ensure you are better prepared. Switching off the mobile phone at night and not working until late will give you time to wind down, ready for a proper night’s sleep.
A good night’s sleep is a key part of alopecia treatment so allow yourself time to relax before going to bed. Avoid working on the laptop in bed or answering emails while watching television. Switching to decaffeinated coffee or tea after 7pm at night will also help.
2. Give up smoking and reduce your alcohol consumption
When you’re worried and under pressure, it is easy to turn to a glass of wine or have a cigarette to “relax the nerves.” While alcohol will numb the situation and help you forget the stresses of the day for a short while, the long-term effects on your health are not good.
The hair needs to have a good supply of blood to the scalp to keep it in tiptop condition. Smoking and heavy drinking have a detrimental effect on the circulatory system and you could be depriving your hair of the nutrients it needs.
3. Take up some physical exercise
Not only is it important during the day to get up and walk away from your desk, work area or computer, but taking a short walk or break will help to manage your stress and reduce the likelihood of hair loss. A brisk walk at lunch or just moving around helps the circulatory system, which in turn is good for the scalp.
4. Eat well
Fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat, oily fish and drinking plenty of water will all help you to have a balanced diet.
If you keep yourself in good physical condition, this will help to combat the effects of stress on your body, reduce the likelihood of diabetes and also deliver the right amount of vitamins and minerals to various parts of the body including the base of your hair follicles. If the base or “bulb” of the hair is deficient in essential minerals and vitamins, this will weaken it, leading to hair loss.
5. Take a deep breath
Last but certainly not least, meditation and relaxation exercises are believed by some psychologists to improve an individual’s resilience to stress, as meditation is thought to alter the brain’s neural pathways.
This can be done during a part of the day when you literally “switch off” everything, from the TV to the ever present mobile devices, and sit back and take a few deep breaths.
Concentrating on your breathing and emptying your mind of the stresses and strains of the day will allow you to focus on yourself, and allow your shoulders to relax and the body to come down to its resting place instead of the usual “fight or flight” position.
A gentle scalp and shoulder massage will also improve your wellbeing and circulation, removing those toxins that have been allowed to build up during a busy day and aid the reduction of hair loss.
This article has been edited.
Dr. Christopher Leat is the owner and Director of Medici Capelli, which are specialists in hair loss treatments and transplants. With over 25 years of experience in medicine, the past 11 years of which he devoted to cosmetic medicine and surgery, Dr Leat has an in-depth understanding of hair loss and its causes, and frequently speaks at conferences relating to hair and hair transplant procedures. Connect with @MediciCapelli on Twitter.