Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States as they affect around 40 million americans. Even more common is androgenic alopecia (AGA), or pattern hair loss, that affects around 80 million american men and women and 1 in 5 people around the world (and the prevalence exponentially increases with age).
Billions of people around the world are affected by hair loss and anxiety.
Albeit everyone knows someone with either one of, or both of these disorders, most people do not draw an association between the two, which is understandable because they are seemingly two completely different conditions. But could they be related? Or correlated in some way?
In this article we are going to try and answer that question. We will be exploring the relationship between anxiety and hair loss and trying to determine how they are related and see if correlation means causation.
First let’s start with some quick overviews.
Anxiety is your body's natural response to stress. Symptoms such as persistent worry, irrational fear, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, sweating and fatigue are commonly associated with anxiety.
While anxiety in stressful circumstances is a normal, healthy response, it becomes a problem when it occurs in everyday situations and when the symptoms are excessively present, intense, and essentially interfere with daily life.
Ergo, when you feel anxious during a stressful situation try not to worry (ironic?) because that is a normal response, but if you feel anxious when you don’t think you should, there could be an underlying issue.
Androgenic alopecia, again commonly called pattern hair loss, is pretty self descriptive: it is hair loss that occurs in a pattern. The pattern that is typically associated with male pattern hair loss is thinning at the temples and the crown while in females it generally occurs at the part line.
Other hair loss conditions cause hair to fall out in different patterns. For instance, alopecia areata causes hair to fall out in small patches all over the scalp.
The way that the type of hair loss is usually determined is by the pattern in which it occurs.
The relationship between anxiety and hair loss
Now that you understand both anxiety and hair loss, let’s talk about how they are related to one another.
In this specific case we are going to focus on one type of hair loss called telogen effluvium (TE) (pattern hair loss is not caused by anxiety, but rather by the androgen DHT, which is why we will be shifting our focus to TE).
TE is a condition that causes rapid hair loss across the entire scalp. How it works is related to the hair cycle.
In short, there are four stages of the cycle: anagen (growth), catagen (transition), telogen (resting), and exogen (shedding). When TE occurs, hairs in the anagen phase quickly shift into the telogen phase, and the telogen phase is extended. Since the hair cycle must always follow the same pattern, all of the hairs that shifted are shed within a couple of months.
It is important to note that TE-associated hair loss is usually not permanent or genetic unlike pattern hair loss.
Since TE is not a genetic condition, what causes it?
On a basic level, what happens when your stressed is that your body releases a steroid hormone called cortisol. Cortisol in low levels is beneficial to your body, but when stress is extreme or prolonged the elevated cortisol levels begin to cause problems for your hair. This is because cortisol affects the cyclic regulation of hair follicles (in other words, the hair cycle) by disrupting cell signaling.
Okay, so we have established that TE is a condition where rapid hair loss occurs and that it is caused by stress, now how does anxiety relate to all of this?
Anxiety and stress go hand in hand. Anxiety can cause stress and vice versa. In fact they are so similar that they can sometimes be hard to distinguish between. Most of the symptoms are the same, the only discernible difference is that stress is typically caused by an external trigger, whereas anxiety is internal.
Nonetheless, both anxiety and stress cause a cortisol release in the body, which as we know this can lead to TE. So the saying that “anxiety can cause hair loss” is technically true even though the hair loss is temporary. But that's not the only way they are connected.
Hair loss can also cause anxiety.
Studies have shown that there are a number of psychological disorders that can result from hair loss including depression, social phobias, and, you guessed it, stress and anxiety.
Hair loss and anxiety are very closely correlated. Anxiety can cause stress which can lead to a temporary form of hair loss called telogen effluvium. Hair loss causes stress and anxiety in a lot of people which also may contribute to it worsening.
All in all the answer to the question does anxiety cause hair loss? is that it certainly can. Unfortunately many people still believe it causes pattern hair loss, which is not true. Always bear in mind that hair loss due to stress and anxiety is usually temporary and can be reversed once stress is reduced and cortisol levels drop.