02 . March . 2020 BY Dr. Sharmishtha Deshpande

Come March and exam fever is all around!
From pre exams, school final exams, to college exams, competitive exams, professional course assessments, paper submissions… the list goes on. A stressful time for students and parents alike!

We understand that this kind of stress, in particular, is largely unavoidable. However, we can surely review the way we deal with it all. An effort has to be made to alleviate stress. ‘Cos stress silently triggers much within our body, the impact of which we do not realise until later.

Your hair is one of the first organs to show a reaction to stress. Severe stress affects the hair’s growth cycle, leading to more hair fall than usual.

Let us first help you understand how stress can affect you and your hair. We will then move to discuss how you can deal with it, overall, and specifically, how to stay clear of hair worries

How does stress affect you?

Emotional or mental stress gives rise to chain reactions in your body. It’s not just how you ‘feel’. There are actual physiological stress responses that include gastric, cardiovascular and hormonal changes. The organs that feel the ‘stress’ are your brain, nerves, muscles, joints, your heart, stomach, pancreas, intestines and your reproductive system. Your skin and hair, the most visible parts of your body show a tremendously negative reaction as well – hair fall and acne, to name a couple.

Stress alters the hormonal balance in your body. Hormones, as you know, are chemicals that are produced by various glands in your body’s endocrine system. They travel through your bloodstream, to various organs and tissues, telling the organs what or what not to do! Most bodily functions and processes are regulated by these hormones. So any disturbance to its balance can affect a wide range of functions, including your hair growth cycle.

Studies have shown that stress causes changes in serum levels of certain hormones like glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone, prolactin, cortisol, and thyroid hormone. While some of these changes are needed for your ‘fight or flight’ response, it can at large lead to bodily concerns. If you are someone who is already having endocrine disorders or fluctuating hormones, stress makes matters worse.

It is also important to remember that when you are feeling stressed, your immune system also responds a tad different than normal. Emotional stress has been observed to cause oxidative stress, which has been implicated quite a bit in depression, anxiety disorders and overall high anxiety levels. This state leads to a certain type of cell death. To give you a context, cell death is often discussed for its relevance to development, degenerative diseases, and even cancer.

Yes, the effects of stress can be minimal (when dealt with, head-on) or wide (when not handled!). It all rests on how it is managed. Do understand it’s implications, make your loved ones aware of it (parents – do have a chat with your stressed student-kids) and deal with it in a collaborative manner.

What happens to your hair when you are stressed?

As mentioned above, when you are stressed, your body releases certain hormones, and the overall hormonal balances are disturbed/altered as a response. These changes communicate with the cells throughout your body, including your hair molecules.

When it comes to stress and hormones, women typically experience imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels, while men experience imbalances in their testosterone levels. Having said that, both genders have a proportion of both sex hormones and see it get affected by stress.

DHT (dihydrotestosterone) is a fine example of this – a byproduct of the male hormone testosterone, whose increased levels are damaging to the hair follicles. DHT shrinks the hair follicles, shortening their life and leading to tremendous hair fall. Do read our blog on the topic to understand the effect of DHT on hair.

Chronic stress is known to throw your hormones off the radar, and this becomes an underlying condition for various hair & scalp complications. The erratic routines that are typically followed during stressful periods, such as during exam times, further aggravate the situation – lack of sleep, irregular meal times/ skipping of meals, lack of nutritious well-balanced diet, inadequate consumption of water, skipping oiling/washing/hair wash routine, to name a few concerns.

What are the hair problems that get triggered/ aggravated due to stress?

The most common forms of hair loss caused by stress are Diffuse Hair Loss and Telogen Effluvium where there is excessive hair loss from the entire scalp and not in any specific pattern such as with FPT or MPT.

The most common stress-related hair problem is Telogen Effluvium (TE). This is when the Telogen phase of your hair growth cycle is prolonged. It is characterized by diffuse hair loss and hair thinning. Diffuse hair loss in itself is known to be a direct result of physiological and emotional stress.

To understand TE, it is important to understand the hair growth cycle. Do read up on it. With TE, the Anagen phase slows down, pushing lesser follicles into the next stage – approx. 30% of the hair follicles move into the Telogen phase – more than normal – ideally, 85-90% of your scalp hair is in the anagen stage, 1% in the catagen phase and 10-15% in the telogen phase. Prolonged telogen phase, with more hairs getting pushed into it, means hair loss. Do read our blog on the topic to understand the condition better.

Trichotillomania is another problem that is seen much in students dealing with stress. It is an impulse-control disorder noticed in children, teenagers and young adults, directly related to stress. It is when you have an overpowering desire, an impulsive action, to pull out your hair. While it’s predominantly pulling hair from the scalp, there are instances when it is observed being pulled from other places of the body such as eyebrows or eyelashes. It is a psychosomatic disorder that needs clinical treatment.

Alopecia Areata is yet another hair problem that can be triggered due to chronic stress. As you would have read on our earlier blogs, this is an autoimmune disorder wherein the hair follicles are attacked by the body’s immune system, leading to hair loss. It gives rise to bald patches or spots on the scalp and hence also known as spot baldness. Emotional stress leading to use of antidepressants or other medication increases the probability of getting Alopecia disorder. This is again a condition that needs clear clinical diagnosis & professional intervention.

Research has shown that in the student community, stress-related hair problems are more pronounced in those in university/college. Otherwise latent disorders too have a tendency to flare up when under severe stress.

Thus, stress impacts the body, and particularly one’s hair, in a very direct manner. The ill-effects of an attacked or compromised immune system can be catastrophic.

Before we speak on what you can do to shield yourselves and your hair from the effects of stress, there is one important aspect we would want to highlight.
With hair loss, the cause of the loss occurs about 2 or 3 months BEFORE the actual hair loss. This is because of the internal imbalance, point in discussion being severe stress, causes many of the growing hairs to pass prematurely to the resting ‘telogen’ phase. The hair remains in this phase for about 2 or 3 months and THEN falls out. We then start to worry, three months after the actual cause has occurred!

Temporary self-correcting diffuse hair loss will begin 2 or 3 months after the event causing the hair loss, and no treatment can really quite stop the loss. It will start after 2-3 months and return to its normal state after 6 months. You will simply need to care for it as always, with a balanced diet and a disciplined hair care regimen. Unless there’s an unknown underlying medical condition for your hair loss, the concern should only last for, say the 6 months, around the particular period of stress or anxiety.

Permanent diffuse hair loss will not be corrected unless the causative factor is corrected. This needs a clear diagnosis and appropriate treatment – both for the causative factor and your hair individually, yet cohesively.

So! Now when you are at the peak of the exam season, take due care! And you won’t have to sweat it 3 months from now!

Some tips to keep the stress out of your hair!

Stress and hair fall are connected in a vicious circle that only you can put a brake on. Your hair shouldn’t be adding to your existing worldly worries! If you’re losing hair because of stress or anxiety, then the first thing to attack is to get those stress levels under control. Do not panic. And get acting. The earlier you learn to manage stress, the sooner your hair concerns get addressed.

Here’s what you can do as you go through your exams and study schedules.

  • Have a clear plan. Get yourself organised and chart a clear schedule to help you stay ahead of timelines. Efficient time management can cut down stress and anxiety by half! Easier said than done, we know. But it’s important that you do this!
  • Learn to relax. Consciously try to not ‘react’ to situations and get stressed. Acknowledge it and work on it. Learn to take a step back, and view things calmly. Take on any form of relaxation that suits you and your body; anything that helps you manage the stress. Spend time on yoga, meditation, music, dance, a stroll, reading a book…whatever helps to calm those nerves and give you some mental space. This can go a long way in dealing with stress.
  • Eat healthily. Nothing else can amp up your spirits, body, mind, and hair, like a good well-balanced meal. A balanced meal with all those Hair Foods will ensure that your hair is strong enough to make that stress-ball bounce right off! Take your trichologist’s advice on nutritional supplements for your hair. Do not self-prescribe.
  • Drink up. Water! Not sodas and caffeine. Water, with all those magical minerals in it, does wonders for your body and hair. When you are well-hydrated, half your battle is won. Stress per se can cause dehydration. Anxiety makes your heart rate go up, and your breathing heavier, thereby losing more fluids. Not to mention that when you are all wound up in stress, you forget to drink water! Studies have actually indicated that when you are just half a litre dehydrated – your cortisol (stress hormone) levels shoot up. When you are hydrated, you reduce the level of the physiological responses to stress. This doesn’t mean drinking 8 glasses at a time! Keep drinking small amounts of water throughout the day.
  • Stay active. Exercise regularly. Stay active and fit. Exercise has the ability to reduce the levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Staying active with any form of exercise helps stimulate the production of endorphins, the chemicals in our brain that functions as our body’s natural painkillers and mood uplifters. Exercise also helps regulate sleep, which in turn can reduce stress and relieve tension in the body.
  • No tight hairdos. If you have long hair, wear it comfortably. Braids would be our recommendation. But not too tight that they put a strain on your hair follicles, which are already under attack from within thanks to stress.
  • Oiling. Not only is this good for your hair but great to help you relax. A good oil massage will nourish your hair while giving you the much-needed relaxation and soothing effect amidst all the chaos and stress around you. Do not skip this routine, especially during the periods of high tension! Oil regularly and wash your hair with a scalp cleanser. Condition and deep condition whenever you get the time, once a week. Keep your hair moisturised and nourished.
  • Go for a trim before things get too hectic – to sail through the next couple of months. Your hair needs a trim periodically. It helps keep damage at bay and makes it easier to maintain. Not to mention a new cut or style can lift those spirits a bit!
  • Sleep well. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. If you can manage about 7, you will be fine. And if 8 hours are not quite working out, take those power naps when you can during the day. A 20-minute power nap can do wonders. It will instantly revive you.
  • Speak up. Ask for help. Stay in the company of people who engage you, motivate you and not add on to the stress! When you feel things are getting out of control, speak up. Talking aloud about the things on your plate can help declutter your mind, and this helps reduce stress. Seek help when in need, and take help when it is extended. There is nothing to feel hesitant about.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself. Breathe. Calm your nerves once in a while with a deep breath and remind yourself of your many strengths. Don’t beat yourself up on what’s not done. Review the work done every now and then. Take satisfaction from the tasks accomplished before you chug forward.

While we have spoken about the exam season, the related stress and what you should be mindful of in this context, self-care (be it your overall health, your hair, or emotions) is important year-round. It has to be given its due importance and prioritised, especially when in stressful situations.

Every lock comes with a key. As do hair problems. Don’t let stress get to your hair. When stress crosses a threshold, it starts rendering your hair dull, lifeless, dry, brittle and prone to breakage. If stress and hair loss persists, in spite of measures taken to control it, do visit a Trichologist. There may be some underlying condition you need to have checked. Consult a trichologist and address your hair concerns the right way.

A trichologist will carry out a detailed analysis of your hair & scalp condition, your routine and diet, along with your medical case history. If he/she feels that you are a tad too stressed, they will also help you with some tips to handle the situation! This apart, once a diagnosis is drawn, if need be you will be prescribed appropriate treatment. It could be a topical treatment, basic hair fall treatments, rejuvenating therapies, changes to diet or routine habits, or other specific tricho treatments, depending on your hair’s need.

Take care and keep your hair out of the exam season! It can be done quite simply, we assure you!

We sign off with our best wishes for success, to you and your loved ones, this season!
If you need any help with your hair, you know we are just a call away!

For more handy tips on hair care, do check out blogs. Perhaps a good way to take a break from your exam schedules & destress! You can also connect with us on social media on the links below. Please leave your questions & comments, and we will address them all!

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