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Stress and Hair: The Hair Cycle continued...

Sometimes, a significant stress of some sort may spark a change in your body's routine physiological functions, Jacobs says, and cause a disproportionate number of hairs to go into the resting phase at the same time. Then three to four months later, sometimes longer, all those resting hairs are shed. The effect can be alarming. The types of events that disrupt the normal hair cycle, Jacob says, can be caused by the substantial physiological stresses on your body.

But, according to McMichael, physiological stress is not the same as emotional stress. Hair loss can be one way the body responds to significant physiological stress that may be brought on by diet, medical, or lifestyle changes.  

"Only those things that cause physiological stress can cause a hair loss event," McMichael says. The good news is that the hair loss from these kinds of events is usually temporary, as long as the stress event is temporary. Once the stressor is addressed or goes away on its own, hair grows back and the normal hair cycle resumes.

 

Stress and Hair: What Causes Hair Loss?

 A variety of stressors may cause your body to undergo hair loss. It happens, McMichael says, when there's some type of physiological change in your system. "For instance," she says, "you go on or off an oral contraceptive. Or you lose more than 15 pounds of weight. Things like this change the physiological balance in your system."

Other stressors, according to McMichael, could include:

  • A strict low-calorie diet
  • Lower estrogen levels after childbirth
  • Severe illness
  • High fever
  • Major surgery
  • Severe infections

Mirmirani says that hair shedding can also result from certain medications, thyroid disease, and nutritional deficiencies such as vitamin D or too much vitamin A.

Pinpointing the actual cause of the shedding isn't always easy. That's because, Mirmirani says, there's a three- to six-month lag time between the stressful event and the hair loss. In order to determine the cause, you need to look back at what was happening three, six, or even nine months before the hair loss began.

Stress and Hair: The Physiological & Emotional Connection

Emotional stress can also lead to physiological stress. For example, McMichael says, "if you're going through a severe divorce, you might not be eating properly; you might lose weight or not sleep well. You may go off and then back on your oral contraceptives." All of these things cause physiological stress and an imbalance in your system. "The point is," she says, "there are a lot of other things that are physiological going on. You're not losing your hair because you hate your ex-husband."

McMichael says that women have a number of things that happen on a regular basis that they may not recognize as stressors. "You start out your life and you're fine," she says. "You're 20 years old and get married. You get on some oral contraceptives. Well, that causes shedding."