The Link Between Stress and Hair Loss

Young woman combing hair

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It's very common for hair to change in texture and thickness over the course of one's life. Knowing this may not make it easier if you're one whose hair is getting thinner seemingly with each passing day.

If your hair is thinning or falling out, you are probably anxious to find out why. Is hair loss due to stress, heredity, or some other factor? The answer is “yes” to all three. The following are some types of hair loss, with information about each:

Normal Hair Loss

This may be a surprise, but our hair wasn't meant to stay in your scalp indefinitely. There is a natural life span to each strand of hair after which it falls out naturally. In fact, we all lose about 100 hairs per day, out of the 100,000 contained by the average scalp. This is due to a few factors:

  • Aging: After the age of 30 (and often before), men and women both start losing hair, though men tend to do so at a faster rate.
  • Lifespan: The average lifespan of a single hair is 4.5 years; the hair then falls out and is replaced within 6 months by a new hair.
  • Styling: Shampooing, blow-drying, and brushing hair can all cause a few hairs to fall out; most of us do this regularly.

Hereditary Hair Loss

Genetic hair loss isn’t due to excessive amounts of hair falling out, as many believe, but to an insufficient amount of hairs growing back to replace the hairs that have been shed. The result, however, is the same: receding hairlines and pattern baldness. Hereditary baldness is associated with a few factors:

  • Age: By age 30, one in four men is balding; by age 60, two in three men are balding or bald.
  • Gender: Hereditary, or “pattern” baldness, is much more common in men than in women.
  • Hormones: Pattern baldness is associated with testosterone; women who have more of it in their system as they age tend to lose (or, technically, fail to re-grow) more hair. This is also why more men experience pattern baldness.

How Stress Can Lead to Hair Loss

You may have heard that stress can cause hair loss, and it’s true. While the first two causes of hair loss are genetically programmed, hair loss due to stress is environmentally caused and may be more easily controlled if the stress can be managed.

Excessive physical or emotional stress—like that associated with injury, illness, or surgery—can cause one of two types of hair loss:

  • Alopecia areata: This stress-induced hair loss involves a white blood cell attack on the hair follicles. With this type of hair loss, the hair also falls out within weeks (usually in patches), but can involve the entire scalp and even body hair. Hair may grow back on its own, but treatment may also be required.
  • Telogen effluvium: With this more common and less severe type of hair loss, the hair stops growing and lies dormant, only to fall out 2 or 3 months later. Then it grows back within 6 to 9 months.

Other Hair Loss Factors

There are other factors that can also cause hair loss, including but not limited to:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormonal changes
  • Illness
  • Nervous habits
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, and birth control pill usage

If your hair is thinning, or you’re experiencing baldness and it seems abnormal (i.e. if you’re in your teens or 20s, if it’s an odd pattern, etc.) it’s a good idea to see your doctor in order to determine the cause.

Also, if you’re concerned that stress is the culprit, it’s always a good idea to cut down on lifestyle stress and find some effective coping techniques for the stress that remains. Specifically, the following resources can help.

How to Relieve Stress

You can't always prevent stress from occurring in your life, but you can often minimize the amount of stress you experience, and when you cut down on stress in some areas, you have more energy to manage the stress that can't be avoided. These techniques can help you cut out stress in your life when possible.

Short-Term Stress Relief

Quick-fix stress relievers aren't just "band-aid solutions." If you can reverse your stress response in the moment, you can minimize your experience of chronic stress. 

It helps to have a somewhat comprehensive stress management plan, and techniques that act quickly are an important part of that. Some fast-acting stress relievers you might want to try include:

Habits to Increase Resilience

Some habits are highly effective for managing stress in the moment and building resilience toward future stress as well. The key is to make them a regular part of your life, even when you aren't feeling overwhelmed by stress. 

Some stress-relievers that can improve your ability to hand stress include:

Meditation, exercise, and other habits can help you to create in yourself a greater ability to withstand stress—learn more about them.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Phillips TG, Slomiany WP, Allison R. Hair Loss: Common Causes and Treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2017;96(6):371-378.

  2. Mysore V, Parthasaradhi A, Kharkar RD, et al. Expert consensus on the management of Telogen Effluvium in India. Int J Trichology. 2019;11(3):107-112. doi:10.4103/ijt.ijt_23_19

  3. Adil A, Godwin M. The effectiveness of treatments for androgenetic alopecia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017;77(1):136-141.e5. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2017.02.054

  4. Malkud S. Telogen Effluvium: A Review. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015;9(9):WE01-3. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2015/15219.6492

  5. Rossi A, Fortuna MC, Caro G, et al. Chemotherapy-induced alopecia management: Clinical experience and practical advice. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2017;16(4):537-541. doi:10.1111/jocd.12308

  6. Piérard-franchimont C, Piérard GE. Alterations in hair follicle dynamics in women. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:957432. doi:10.1155/2013/957432

  7. Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-68. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018

Additional Reading
  • National Institute of Health

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.