Stress. A hair raising experience? Thinning or vanishing hair can cause anxiety for many.

There are perhaps a number of reasons for reduced hair growth and increased hair loss, genetic inheritance and hormone deficiency being just two of the possible factors.  However, today I am specifically going to be blogging about hair loss and its relation to stress.

To understand how stress can possibly be related to hair loss, we first have to have a basic knowledge of how stress can affect our body.  You may have knowledge of the Fight or Flight response and know of its connection to stress.  Whether you do or not this is where we shall begin.

The Fight or Flight response is our defence mechanism to perceived threats or dangers.  It originates from the age of the caveman when the body needed some sort of coping mechanism to survive life threatening situations. Hair was and to some extent still is used as protection from perceived threat.  In times of danger, that is to say where there was a possibility of being hurt our hair much like a dog or cat would stand up to make us look bigger so as to put our foe at bay and avoid the possibility of being hurt. Today, the same mechanism is still used in order to help us cope with perceived threats or danger.

Perceived is, perhaps the crucial word here, indicating that although a person may perceive they are being threatened in some way, it may not appear to be the case from someone else’s point of view.  In addition, life threatening situations are very few and far between these days, so perceived threats are more likely to be of an emotional or psychological nature in relation to threats to our pride, prestige or position. Whatever situation we may find ourselves in, information is constantly being relayed via our sensory systems to the brain.  It is the sensory cortex of the brain that then determines if the situation is indeed regarded as threatening or dangerous to us.  If so, the sensory cortex will trigger the hypothalamus in the brain which, in turn, will initiate along with the autonomic nervous system a number of changes within the body to prepare it for Fight or Flight.

These changes are quite complex, causing a number of hormones to be secreted into the blood stream like adrenaline, noradrenaline, thyroxin, cholesterol and endorphins, causing our bodily systems to be affected.  This accounts for the sensation of a dry mouth and emptying of the bowels which are sometimes brought about by the digestive system slowing or shutting down, and the increased breathing caused by our lungs dilating to take in more oxygen, thereby providing the body with more energy.

These changes account for the increased energy levels and strength that we may feel in stressful situations; the energy levels and strength needed to either stay and fight, or run away.  Interestingly, it is through the actual physical activity of fight or flight, that the effects of the changes on the body are reversed and the hormones and energy are discharged and flushed from the body, thereby allowing the body to return to its normal functioning state.  However this is all well and good, but in stressful situations today we are unlikely to be able to fight our perceived aggressor, or flee from them for that matter.  Especially if the threat is created from within us.

No one to fight and nowhere to run.

So what happens if we do not respond to the Fight or Flight mechanism with physical activity?  Well, quite simply the body will find it much more difficult to return to its normal state.  Where there is no venting for this negative energy, the hormones released in the bloodstream will take longer to dissipate and the bodily systems will take longer to return to normal functioning. For the occasional stressful situation this is not too much of a problem, but if stress continues over a prolonged period of time the effects can be quite devastating, causing the hormones and excess energy to accumulate within the blood and prevent the bodily systems from ever returning to normal functioning.  This eventually causes so much strain on the body that we become more prone to illness and disease and our body may at some point give out on us such as heart attacks, strokes, or even cancer. More about the effects of hair-loss and stress soon…