The Mind-Body Connection
Hey Sarah, We Feel Your Pain
Women share their stories of stress-induced hair loss
-Julie Ryan Evans
Stresses in her life have caused Sarah Palin to lose her tresses in large amounts, according to a recent report in The New York Times. Sources say she’s had to make numerous emergency hair appointments to the Beehive beauty salon to deal with significant loss of the strands that makes up her famous dos.
While the jury is still out on whether emotional stress can actually lead to physical hair loss, many doctors believe it can, including Betty’s OB/GYN on Call, Dr. Lissa Rankin, who believes that stress is likely the cause of Sarah Palin’s recently reported hair loss .
“Personally, I believe the human body is a highly sensitive organism, and the ways in which our emotional stress manifests in our body and sends signals is vast and fascinating,” Dr. Rankin says. “Funny how our bodies communicate when we’re not paying attention to the more subtle signals.”
Many other women of all ages report experiences that support the connection between stress and hair loss as well.
Lisa Glass, 46, was out for a morning walk in her Texas neighborhood a few years back when all of a sudden a man grabbed her and dragged her into a ditch. Somehow she found the strength to fight him off and get away with only minor scrapes and bruises. The event, understandably, traumatized her emotionally, and then something just as traumatic happened – Lisa’s hair began to fall out.
“For at least six months after the event I lost hair by the handfuls,” Glass says. “It just kept getting thinner and thinner. It probably took a year or more for my hair to get back to its normal state.”
Glass didn’t immediately relate the hair loss to event; in fact, it was her hairdresser who connected the dots for her and told her that he frequently sees stress-related hair loss. Her hair did grow back as her stress levels reduced, and she said that she now uses her hair as a barometer of sorts to keep her stress levels in check.
“If I start noticing more hair loss than usual, I reflect on what’s going on in my life; that way, I can adjust accordingly.”
Mary Heather Hanley, 31, of Atlanta, always had very long, thick, shiny, curly hair, but after a breakup with her fiancé and some financial hardships had to lop it off into a bob because it had thinned so much.
“It looked like hair soup when I’d get out of the bath, clumps when I’d run my hands through my hair,” Hanley said.
Once she took steps to alleviate her stress – exercising, getting more sleep and getting her financial and relationship matters in place – her hair started growing back, though she did have to deal with “horrible mushroom head as only half of my hair grew back the following summer.”
Nathalie Lussier, 23, experienced significant hair loss when she moved from a small Canadian town to the bustling hub that is New York City.
“Soon after I moved in and started work, I felt the pressure was on,” Lussier recalls. “I noticed the number of hairs in the bottom of the shower and on my comb started to increase. It was difficult to pinpoint the cause, because of all the changes that were going on in my life.”
She said the hair loss finally stopped when she moved back home and her stress level returned to normal. She still notices hair loss when stress begins to creep up.
Sheri Mortko, 52, started losing her hair following her father’s death after a six-year battle with cancer during which she cared for him.
“It was about the time my grief came to manageable from intense, is when I noticed. I had no idea of the cause,” Mortko said. “It was horrifying to wash my hair because the strands would just wrap around and completely cover my hands. I cried a lot.”
She consulted doctors who attributed her hair loss to stress.
“It was as if all the anxiety, adrenaline, and toxic stress being released triggered the hair being ‘released’ as well, so now that I have recovered my balance after my ‘loss’ my hair has done the same,” she said.
Now, 16 months later and 10 inches shorter, Mortko’s hair is retuning to normal.
“I think just knowing that the body has its own rhythm for handling things helps. I cannot control the events in my life; I can control the way I respond to them.”
So Sarah, you’re not alone. It seems quite clear that stress can be damaging to our hair and much more. The good news is that in most cases you don’t have to start thinking about a comb-over; a little R&R is all you need to get your luscious locks back.