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Stress and Hair Growth (Hint: They’re Related)

Noticing extra hair in the shower drain? All this shedding could be an indicator that your body’s under stress, and it’s had enough – and it’s affecting your hair growth.

When your body experiences stress, whether hormonal or traumatic, it can respond by sending brand new – and confusing – signals to your follicles.

We’ve got the skinny on how those signals – and all the stress – mess with your head. Plus, we’ll tell you the four things you can change to help your hair recover from a traumatic event more quickly.

Know Your Growth Cycle

As anyone who’s ever waited for a bad haircut to grow out knows, hair growth can take a long time. That’s because each of the hairs on your head is in a completely different phase of its growth cycle.

According to WebMD, “At any given time, a random number of hairs will be in one of three stages of growth and shedding: anagen, catagen, and telogen.”

During the anagen phase, your hair is busy using your protein-rich diet to generate new growth. Once your hair reaches the catagen phase, it “rests” before moving onto the telogen phase, the point in the cycle when your hair sheds.

Many women who experience hair loss are actually going through very short growth, or anagen, phases. That’s why you might notice short, fuzzy hair sprouting in new patches or “mass” shedding after a big life-event.

“When you have these conditions, your body halts hair growth, and then things get restarted and all these hairs that have been halted start to get pushed out at the same time,” explains dermatologist Bethanee Schlosser at Self.

Whether you’ve had surgery or experienced a death in the family, stress-related hair loss goofs up your natural growth cycle. Here’s what happens:

How Stress Freezes Things Up

Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is powerful stuff. It makes our body react as if we’re in a life-or-death situation, so we feel like reaching for fatty foods to keep going, or staying on high alert even if it’s way past our bedtime.

“When cortisol spikes, it tells the body to eat something with a lot of calories—a great survival tactic if you need energy to flee a predator but not if you’re fretting over how to pay bills,” nutritionist Shawn Talbott told Prevention.

And if your cortisol levels are running high due to trauma or other hormone-related issues, it most likely means your estrogen levels are too, low.

Both trauma and hormone-related stress can cause a “dip in hair-growth-promoting hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, and an increase in hair-loss-promoting hormones, such as androgen and testosterone,” explains Priya Rao at Women’s Health.

For some women, this cycle of hormone miscommunication can last for months – often long after the traumatic event happened.

According to The Atlantic, that’s one reason why you most likely noticed an uptick in how many strands of hair you shed once your break-up or job hunt was already in the rearview. The other reason, is, of course, the hair growth cycle itself.

“Because there’s a delay between when a hair stops growing and when it falls out, there’s likewise a delay between a stressful event (which can be physical, like surgery or trauma, or emotional, like a divorce or loss of a job) and when hair loss might occur,” reports Julie Beck.

If you take a look at your calendar from three months ago, Beck says, you’ll most likely be able to pinpoint the event that brought on all that extra unwanted stress.

No matter what kind of battle you’re facing, chronic stress should be managed with heaps of self-care – and regular consults with your fave doc.

Combat Stress-Related Hair Loss

Here are four strategies we recommend to stay on top of whatever life may throw your way:

1. Fine-tune Your Diet

Nothing says “stressed out” like binging on ice cream sundaes or sneaking handfuls of chocolate between meals. (Thanks, cortisol.)

If you’re spending too much time snacking thanks to life stressors, you might be sabotaging the fuel your hair needs to grow.

“[Protein is] essential to hair growth,” dermatologist Francesca Fusco told Fitness. “Even though there’s nothing that can speed up the process, there are things you can do to slow it down, and not ingesting enough protein is one of them.”

And there’s not exactly a whole lot of protein – or other macronutrients – in a box of Oreos. (Sorry to break to to you.)

Get back on track with a hair-healthy diet full of protein and Omega-3s. Think salmon, avocados, walnuts, and flax seeds – the nutrient-rich proteins and veggies your hair needs to bounce back.

2. Double Check Your Birth Control

Have you recently gone on the pill? Your body might be having a negative reaction to all that progesterone, causing your hair to thin and fall out, says dermatologist Neil Sadick.

“The progesterone component can break down into a male-like hormone in the body,” Sadick explained to Women’s Health.

This issue is more common than you might think. Make it a point to discuss your symptoms with your general practitioner or your OB-GYN, so you can come up with a game plan.

3. Hop on the Treadmill

Exercise is especially helpful if you’re going through a stressful life transition, whether you’re moving, looking for a new job, or planning a wedding.

The more you can manage stress on a daily basis with preventative exercise, the less you’ll feel like pulling your hair out as the big day gets closer.

One of the most surefire ways to reduce stress is to get those endorphins pumping, says physiologist Monika Fleshner.

“Exercise helps produce resilience, not because it eliminates the stress response, which would be bad because you want your body to recognize and respond to dangerous situations, but because it acts as a buffer to it,” Fleshner told Fitness.

“Say your boss asks, ‘Why haven’t you met your deadline?’ If you’ve been exercising regularly, you’re less likely to respond with a full-blown physiological stress response — elevated heart rate, high blood pressure — as would someone who is sedentary,” she adds.

One more reason not to be a couch potato!

4. Chill Out

Nothing says “self-care” like knowing when you need to take a break and relax.

Mastering relaxation techniques – from yoga to meditation – can also have a positive impact on your body’s ability to handle stressful situations.

According to Prevention, “People who practiced Buddhist meditation significantly decreased both cortisol and blood pressure in a 6-week Thai study.”

Hit the mat for gorgeous hair? We only have one word: “Om.”

It’s no fun to deal with hair loss – especially if accelerated shedding happens after a period of high stress, hormonal change, or trauma.

Still, stress-related hair loss is common enough that there are plenty of women who’ve faced the same issue – and lived to tell the tale.

Learn to recognize the signs of elevated stress in your body, so you can address its effects on your health – and your hair – before you start shedding like crazy.

Better yet, take the preventative route by planning a hair-healthy diet, making sure you get regular exercise, and taking time out for self-care – especially when you feel “too busy” for a soak in the tub or some quality time on your yoga mat.

That’s when you need it most.

Have you ever experienced stress-related hair loss? Tell us how you got your groove back in the comments below:

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