Everyone seems to be having a busy, stressful 2015 so I thought I would remind everyone of the effects of stress on the hair and how to help minimise those effects. Stress aggravates hair loss.
Stress has multiple hormonal effects on the body but the big one is an increase in levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol leads to an increase in substance P levels around the hair follicles of the scalp. Together cortisol and substance P act to:
- slow the rate of hair growth
- switch follicles from the growing anagen phase to the dormant telogen phase
- cause the release of free radicals which damage hair follicles especially the pigment cells (this is how stress turns hair grey)
It’s hard to reduce stress levels when a major cause of stress is your hair loss! Some helpful ways are:
- Get more sleep. Make sure of this. After a healthy diet this is the number one lifestyle factor that will improve your hair. At least seven hours a night.
- Exercise. You will feel better and your hair will grow better.
- Listen to music.
- Spend time with your family and pets.
- Try meditation. A big part of modern stress is the constant thinking, worrying and anticipating. This is where people talk about being mindful or living in the moment. Some find that a therapist who teaches CBT works for them but many get the same benefits from meditation. It helps to be able to switch off that anxious chatter for a while.
- Socialise and spend time with your extended family.
- Breathe properly. Breathing through the diaphragm rather than the chest wall muscles lowers cortisol levels. Breathing is the only part of the autonomic nervous system (the part that controls heart rate etc) that is under conscious control. While seeing a respiratory physio or taking a yoga class are best some manage with a book or an internet search of hyperventilation. Some get enough help from the following exercise. First slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of five. Hold your breathe for a count of five. Then open your mouth and let all that air out.
- Try yoga. The benefits of exercise and meditation.
- Eat chilli. The hot part of chilli is called capsaicin. Capsaicin blocks the action of substance P.
- Give of your time and money. You do feel better getting outside of yourself and doing something for others.
- Reduce your commitments. Don’t spread yourself too thin.
- Maintain your healthy diet. It is easy to eat poorly when you feel rushed and under stress. Make sure you have adequate protein intake (one gram of protein a day per kilo of bodyweight) and avoid those processed carbohydrates.
Not every item on the list will help everyone and everybody will have a different ranking but I hope there is something in the above list which will help everyone.