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Possible Psychological Causes of Hair Loss

by Dean Anderson

The notion that stress or emotional turmoil can cause sudden hair loss is common in popular culture, but does our psychology really have an influence on our physiology? The short answer is yes. Telogen effluvium, alopecia areata, and trichotillomania are three major hair loss disorders which can be directly influenced by emotional trauma or stressful circumstances. Join us as we explore these stress-triggered ailments and suggest strategies to mediate their effects.

Telogen Effluvium

Divorces, job loss, un-expected surgeries, and pregnancies all have two things in common. They are stressful and they frequently trigger a hair loss cycle known as telogen effluvium. The “telogen” in telogen effluvium refers to a normal phase of hair growth where a follicle takes a break from producing strands while it undergoes repairs by stem cells in the scalp. Normally only 10% of your body’s total hair follicles are in the telogen phase at any given time, but during telogen effluvium up to 70% hair follicles on the scalp enter dormancy at once.

The onset of telogen effluvium is preceded by a shock to the system such as a physical injury or major emotional trauma. It is common for people experiencing the death of a loved one, a break up, a layoff, or major relocation to experience diffuse hair shedding due to telogen effluvium. Recently, Elin Nordegren, Tiger Woods’ ex-wife, revealed that she experienced hair loss during the messy and public dissolution of her marriage, and many experts believe what she experienced was textbook telogen effluvium. Luckily, most cases of the disorder clear up six to nine months after the triggering event, but prolonged stress or bodily neglect can extend its effects.

Alopecia Areata

Scientists believe most cases of alopecia areata are caused by hereditary factors or autoimmune diseases like lupus, but there are many documented cases of alopecia areata appearing concurrently with depression, severe anxiety, or emotional events. During alopecia areata the immune system begins attacking hair follicles in patches, resulting in a sudden hairless spots on the scalp. While many aspects of this disease still perplex scientists, some suspect that the ability of hair follicles to synthesize and secrete cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress, may directly link to alopecia areata outbreaks.


People diagnosed with trichotillomania have a compulsion to pull or twist on strands of hair until they break off. Often this habit is driven by anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders, and trichotillomania sufferers are known to systematically pluck away hair from the scalp, eyebrows, or beards when experiencing stressful emotions. Though hair should grow back once the impulse is under control, some trichotillomaniacs end up with traction alopecia from the abuse their scalp has received, furthering the duration of their hairless patches.

De-Stressing Tactics

Realizing you’re losing hair because of emotional turmoil can have the unfortunate effect of stressing you out even more. Psychologists encourage those who are experiencing any negative health effects from emotions or stress, including hair loss, to change their lifestyle and habits. Working thirty minutes of exercise into your daily schedule can help ease nervous tension, release mood-boosting endorphins, and make you feel better about your body. Another idea is to establish a morning ritual of meditation or repeating positive mantras. It might also be worthwhile to talk about your stress with the important people in your life and adjust the expectations of your relationships. Try to set up reasonable goals at work and in your personal life, and understand that it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. If none of these strategies remedy your stress, consider seeing a mental health professional about therapy or medication to help cope with your emotions.

If you’ve safely remove stressors from your life but are still experiencing hair loss, it may be time to see a specialist. Contact us today to set up a free, no-pressure consultation one of our esteemed hair restoration clinics in a city near you!

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