Recently, I experienced a nasty run-in of hair loss from stress. One day, I thought nothing of my full head of hair and the next I was staring a definitive bald spot the size of my finger tip smack dab in the middle of my beloved bangs. In fact, the onset came so quickly that at first sight, I wondered if it had been there all along. But alas, a cross reference of selfies on my phone revealed that in fact, this bald spot was indeed a new development. Let’s take a look shall we? You can see the same part with a very stark difference. Shockingly, these photos were taken just a few weeks apart. What was with this weird little bald spot?
The diagnosisThe only thing from throwing me into a full-fledged panic at this discovery, was recalling not one but two different friends who had been through the exact same situation. Upon their advice, I booked an emergency appointment with my dermatologist. Although there aren’t many studies that can definitively prove it, my dermatologist assured me that he saw hair loss from stressed patients quite often. He diagnosed my bald spot as alopecia areata. This is when your immune system attacks your hair follicles and hair falls out in isolated round patches. My dermatologist elaborated that he sees this type of hair loss specifically after his patients endure a particularly stressful short period of time. When it comes to on-going chronic stress, he shared, general thinning and hair loss all over is more likely. The good news? The follicles are still viable for regrowth. The bad news? Well, besides missing your hair temporarily, it’s also possible for the problem to recur on and off again. My patch was fairly small, but they can be as large as quarter. According to the American Hair Loss Association, about 2% of people will experience this at some point in their lives. Genetics may determine whether you are susceptible or not. The Harvard Medical School says that of people with alopecia areata under the age of thirty, 40% have at least one family member with the same disorder. I thought back to recent events… Work was great! Home, good! But sure enough, I’d had my heart broken the month prior. You know the kind, right? One of those situations that can throw you into a downright existential crisis. Yup, definitely hair loss from stress.
The Dermatologist’s TreatmentTo treat my alopecia areata my dermatologist suggested monthly injections of corticosteroids to help stimulate hair growth in the area. This works by suppressing the immune system. The needle was teeny tiny, and I could barely feel a pinch as it went in. My friend who’d gone through the same experience had received the same, and saw visible improvements after just one shot. I, on the other hand, returned three months in a row to dutifully get my head pricked. After the third month, I still couldn’t tell if we were making any progress – or if I was just a lost cause.
Seeking Alternate SolutionsAfter lamenting to my friend about the slow progress of my treatments and the escalating cost, I brainstormed more aggressive approaches. Should I increase my dosage? The frequency of treatments? What about applying castor oil to my hair nightly? Or massaging the area twice a day to stimulate my hair follicles? Instead, my friend offered a revelatory solution. “Why don’t you just chill and leave it alone? If stress is the cause, all of this sounds stressful to keep up with. Maybe just let it fill in, in its own time.” Huh. Leave it alone? Was it really that simple?
Treating Stress From The SourceWary of this advice, I decided it was at least easy and affordable to try. So I cancelled my next appointment at the dermatologist and didn’t buy any special oils or scalp massage tools. Instead, I went out with friends. I worked out. I took my vitamins. I watched movies. I cried when I felt like crying. I made an effort to do five minutes of breathwork and ten minutes of meditation in the morning. I slept in when it felt good. I went to therapy. I meal prepped. Basically, I lived my life. And you know what? The next month, I did see new hairs start to come in. And more, the month after. Until finally, the spot went away completely.
In SummaryWe tend to push aside our feelings in a busy world. It’s easy to do because no one else can really see what’s going on under the surface. That is, until they can. In my case, the bald spot brought my sad, stressed feelings to a head – literally. The irony here is when our stress affects our looks, we only get more stressed. This can create a vicious cycle. Topical treatments may absolutely work for some to stop this cycle and get hair growing again. For me though, it simply came down to self-care, patience, and good old acceptance. I decided that heartbroken or not, bald spot or not – I was already a perfect and complete person, exactly as I was. And eventually, my hair caught back up with the happiness I recovered inside.
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