Anxiety and Hair Loss: What is the Connection?
Reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
We all experience feelings of anxiety from time to time, but for some of us, those feelings can be more severe and intrusive than for others.
If you’re prone to occasional anxiety, or if you’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), you might have wondered if your feelings of anxiety can affect your hair.
Yes, anxiety can cause hair loss. However, hair loss from anxiety isn’t the same as male pattern baldness — the type of permanent hair loss that can cause you to develop a receding hairline or a bald patch around your crown.
Instead, mental health issues such as anxiety or chronic stress tend to cause a form of hair loss called telogen effluvium (TE).
Dealing with hair loss from anxiety can be a challenging process, as it’s very possible that losing your hair could make your feelings of anxiety worse. It can feel like a vicious cycle — a snowball that’s rolling down a hill, gaining speed, size and momentum in the process.
The good news is that anxiety is treatable, as is the temporary hair loss that it can cause when it becomes severe and overwhelming.
Below, we’ve talked about how anxiety can affect your hair growth, as well as the symptoms you may notice if you’re starting to shed hair as a result of high anxiety or stress levels.
We’ve also explained how you can treat anxiety-induced hair loss, from making changes to your habits and lifestyle to using medication for stronger, more consistent hair growth.
Why and How Does Hair Loss Happen?
Hair loss occurs when your hair growth cycle, the natural process through which your hair grows to its full length, is interrupted.
A variety of factors can play a role in hair loss, from your genes to androgen hormones such as dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — the primary hormone that’s responsible for androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness.
Male pattern baldness is a type of permanent hair loss, as it develops when your hair follicles are no longer capable of producing new hairs.
We’ve discussed the biological process behind permanent hair loss more in our guide to DHT and its effects on male hair loss.
As for temporary hair shedding, a range of issues can all play a part, including scalp infections, illnesses that cause fever, medications, fluctuations in your levels of certain vital hormones and yes, even feelings of stress and anxiety.
These issues can disrupt your normal hair cycle, causing your hair to shed prematurely and fail to grow as it should.
On average, healthy hair grows at a rate of around 0.35mm per day, or approximately one inch every 10 weeks. This means that you can expect just under half an inch of healthy hair growth each month, or somewhere between five and six inches per year.
To achieve this growth, your hair passes through three clear phases: the anagen, catagen and telogen phases of the hair growth cycle.
During the anagen phase, your hair spends two to six years growing to its full length. About 85 to 90 percent of all hairs on your scalp are in this phase at any given time, meaning it’s normal for most of your hair to be in a state of active growth.
During the catagen phase, your hair stops actively growing and transitions into a resting state, typically over the course of several weeks. It then enters the telogen phase, during which hair growth completely stops and the hair is eventually shed.
This process repeats itself every few years, allowing each hair to grow to its full length before replacing itself.
Because of the nature of your hair growth cycle, some hair loss — typically about 100 hairs — occurs every day. This is a normal aspect of hair growth, meaning there’s usually no need to worry if you notice stray hairs on your pillowcase or in your hairbrush.
However, if you notice clumps of hair falling out all at once, or hair regrowth that seems slower than normal, it could be a sign that something — possibly feelings of anxiety — is affecting your hair health and natural hair growth cycle.
The Link Between Anxiety and Hair Loss
The relationship between anxiety and hair loss is opaque and complex. Currently, experts are aware that anxiety and severe stress can affect hair growth and contribute to several types of hair loss.
However, there are still lots of questions about why and to what extent feelings of anxiety and hair loss are related.
What we do know is that anxiety can contribute to hair loss in several ways, from affecting the growth cycle of your hair to increasing your risk of mental disorders such as trichotillomania, a type of hair pulling disorder that can damage your hair follicles.
One form of hair loss that’s often linked to anxiety is telogen effluvium, a type of hair shedding that can develop during periods of severe stress.
Telogen effluvium occurs when a physiological stressor causes a large number of your hairs to move from the anagen phase, or growth phase, of the hair growth cycle into the telogen phase prematurely.
This can cause your hair to suddenly enter a resting state, with hair shedding usually occurring three to six months after the causative event.
Our guide to stress-induced hair loss goes into more detail about this type of hair loss, as well as the role that chronic stress or severe anxiety can play in its development.
Another stress and anxiety related hair loss condition is called trichotillomania. It’s considered a part of obsessive-compulsive disorder and involves habitually pulling on your hair, often until it’s shedding and thin in appearance.
People that suffer from trichotillomania feel a strong urge to pull hair from their head, eyebrows, abdomen and other parts of the body.
Doing this can be a way to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, with some people affected by trichotillomania reporting feeling as such before the hair-pulling event. Others pull their hair to deal with feelings of boredom.
Severe stress is also thought to contribute to alopecia areata. Here, the body’s immune system attacks its hair follicles, which can cause hair loss in patches, or in some cases, cause total hair loss.
Alopecia areata is actually clinically defined as an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system decides to target and attack your hair follicles.
This can result in patches of hair loss, typically in the form of small, oval-shaped areas with little hair on your scalp. When severe, alopecia areata may also cause more severe and noticeable loss of hair, including complete baldness across your scalp and/or areas of your face.
Although the link between anxiety and alopecia areata isn’t crystal clear, researchers think that feelings of severe stress may play a role in this form of hair loss as a triggering factor.
Hims has helped thousands of men regrow their hair
Treatments for Anxiety Hair Loss
Hair loss can be a frustrating and distressing process, whether it occurs temporarily as a result of anxiety or due to male pattern baldness.
The good news is that there are several ways to treat both hair loss and anxiety, from changes that you can make to your lifestyle to therapy, medications and more.
Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is one of the most effective options for reducing the severity of anxiety and helping you gain control over your symptoms.
Several forms of therapy are used to treat anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. These forms of therapy for anxiety disorders include identifying harmful thought patterns, then learning newer, healthier methods of thinking and behaving.
Need someone to talk to about anxiety? Our online counseling service lets you find and connect with a licensed therapist from home, without any need to travel to and from appointments.
Several medications are available to treat both anxiety and hair loss. These include anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants, which your healthcare provider may prescribe while you take part in therapy if you have an anxiety disorder.
We offer several medications for anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders through our online psychiatry service, following a consultation with a licensed mental health provider.
Hair loss that’s triggered by anxiety-caused stress usually improves on its own as you gradually make progress towards overcoming your anxiety symptoms.
However, it’s often possible to speed up the hair regrowth process with minoxidil — a topical hair loss medication that is believed to work by increasing blood flow to your scalp and moving your hairs into the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle.
Often, making simple changes to your habits and daily life can reduce your levels of anxiety and make it easier to function.
For example, simple things such as exercising regularly, practicing mindfulness, meditating on a regular basis, practicing self-care and setting aside plenty of time to spend with your friends and family members may help to reduce the severity of some symptoms of anxiety.
Our guide to living with anxiety shares practical tips that you can use to design a life that makes you feel less anxious.
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No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
The Bottom Line on Anxiety and Hair Loss
Hair loss and anxiety can be devastating issues when they happen on their own. Combine them and life can truly become a buffet of suck — a whole smorgasbord of suck.
Even though anxiety and hair loss are undeniably intertwined in several different ways, the good news is that if you’re experiencing hair loss as a result of anxiety, chances are, it isn’t permanent and won’t have any major effect on your long-term hair health.
Better yet, it’s highly likely that your hair will eventually grow back on its own once you treat your anxiety, either by taking part in therapy, using medication, making changes to your daily life or a combination of approaches.
Our range of hair loss treatments, which includes minoxidil, can help you speed up this process by stimulating hair growth and preventing unwanted shedding.