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8 ways to cope with the stress of hair loss

6 minute read
Person wearing hat to hide hair loss

Losing your hair can be scary and upsetting. But there are many things you can do to deal with the distress. We’ll show you how.  

Jennifer Howze

By Jennifer Howze

We’ve all had a bad hair day. But for people experiencing hair loss — from mild thinning to bald patches — the psychological pain of losing your hair can be severe and concerning. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’re vain if you’re distressed about it. Hair is a big part of our identity. It’s normal to be upset if you see signs of change, especially because hair loss might also cause other worries about your health.

Losing your hair can trigger a range of emotions, from shame and anger to fear and even depression. Some people even stop socializing, exercising or doing other things they enjoy because they’re so self-conscious about it. But with the right support and treatment, you can move forward with a sense of control and confidence. Here are 8 ways to ease the stress as you navigate this new condition.

1. Cut yourself a break: Hair loss is stressful

Losing your hair is not life-threatening, thankfully. But don’t be surprised if you start feeling anxious or even depressed. Not everyone has that reaction — and there’s no right or wrong way to feel — but for some, it can be traumatic.

Hair is closely associated sexuality, and it often helps us express our personality. Even mild thinning can affect your confidence, body image and sense of self.

So if you’re taking it really hard, realize that it’s okay to feel that way — and that you’re not alone. (It can help to talk to someone if you’re struggling to come to terms with it. We can help.)

2. Consult a doctor right away for information and support

Worrying about what might be causing your hair loss can add to your stress. The runaway train of negative thoughts (“I’ll be bald in a month!” “No one will love me.” “It’s irreversible!”) can take on a life of its own, often unnecessarily. There are several effective treatments, and just having an appointment on the books can help you feel more hopeful and in control.

A visit — virtual or in person — with a general practitioner can be a good first step. Primary care doctors see patients with hair loss issues and help make a diagnosis and start treatment. In addition, dermatologists are specially trained to diagnose and treat hair loss. Because they see so many patients with the condition, they understand the emotional challenges involved.

“Hair loss is stressful for people, so you really have to acknowledge their feelings and let them know that you understand it’s taking a significant toll on them,” says Stephanie Cotell, MD. She is a dermatologist at Northeast Dermatology in Gahanna, Ohio. “The patient needs to feel supported and heard from.”

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3. Learn about your treatment options

Your doctor will be able to outline appropriate treatment options based on the diagnosis. “I’ve seen that getting a diagnosis helps patients to feel more in control and empowered to take action with treatment options,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD. She is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital.

Even before getting a diagnosis, it can help to read up on the many ways that hair loss can be treated or resolved. For example, some hair loss can be caused by a stressful event — such as the death of a loved one or even pregnancy — and will resolve on its own. (And yes, there are ways you can treat it while waiting for it to grow back.)

Many cases of hair loss are genetic and respond well to topical medications. If your hair loss is being caused by inflammation or an infection, addressing those issues can slow or stop the loss.

4. Understand the role of stress and the importance of easing it

It seems like a cruel joke: Hair loss stresses you out — and stress can make hair loss worse. In fact, some types of hair loss are specifically associated with stress:

  • Telogen effluvium occurs when many hair follicles are sent into the resting (telogen) phase and fall out at the same time.
  • Alopecia areata occurs when the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles.

So it’s important to actively combat stress. “I recommend a marriage of medical treatments with lifestyle recommendations such as yoga and acupuncture to reduce stress and boost well-being,” says Dr. Mraz Robinson. She also suggests that you amp up basic self-care. This includes eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep and reaching out to your support system.

All these approaches can better equip you to cope with not only the stress that hair loss brings but also life’s normal roller coaster of ups and downs. (These mindfulness exercises can help, too.)

5. See a therapist and treat depression

Because hair loss may trigger sadness, anger and depression, your dermatologist may refer you to another expert. “We’ll often recommend that a patient see a counselor or mental health professional if they’re suffering from extreme stress,” says Rajani Katta, MD. 

She’s a dermatologist who works as part of the voluntary clinical faculty for Baylor College of Medicine and the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas at Houston. Talking to a mental health expert can also help you cope with the instinct to isolate, which can worsen stress.

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can also be an option for treating depression or anxiety associated with hair loss. But be aware that some antidepressants also come with a slight risk of hair loss as well. Be sure to provide a full medical history to the prescribing doctor before starting any medication.

Ready to connect with a virtual therapist? Optum’s network of licensed mental health professionals is ready to help. Start your free assessment. 

6. Find a support group and online resources

You’re not in this alone: More than 50% of women will experience noticeable hair loss at some point in life. And about 70% of men lose hair as they age, with 25% of bald men experiencing hair loss before age 21, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (Learn more about women and hair loss.)

That means there are many folks who have gone through this situation and want to connect and share their experiences and advice. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation has support groups around the country.

Podcasts devoted to hair loss are another way to get guidance and hear from other people coping with hair loss. Note that not all the advice on podcasts is necessarily approved by a doctor. Still, these can provide a powerful way to feel connected. Some popular ones include Alopecia Life, Very Nearly Almost and Hair Therapy. The radio show The Bald Truth, which covers issues affecting men (including hair loss), may be helpful for men looking for support.

7. Consider a wig

If you cannot regrow your hair — or if you’d like an option to help as you go through treatment — your dermatologist can help you source wigs, says Dr. Cotell. “Wigs can give us our confidence back.” Research shows that wearing a wig can have a positive impact on mental health.

Depending on the cause of your hair loss, your doctor may be able to write you a prescription for one, which could mean its cost is also covered by insurance. A quality wig can be expensive. If it’s not covered or you can’t afford one, check your area for local organizations that may be able to supply donated wigs. Dr. Cotell recommends shopping for one before you need it, if possible.

8. Switch up your hairstyle

Certain hairstyles can help camouflage hair loss and make you feel more confident with the hair you have. A short cut can be a good option, since hair can look fuller when it’s shorter. If your hair loss is caused by traction — continually pulling on the hair at the roots — changing your hairstyle can give the area time to recover.

A stylist can help recommend volumizers that make hair appear thicker, give you hairstyle options and help with extensions, says Dr. Cotell.

Whatever the cause of your hair loss, acting early and finding the right support will help not only what’s growing on your head but also what’s going on inside it. 

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Stop or slow hair loss with help from Optum’s health providers

Additional sources
Hair loss and stress: Mayo Clinic (n.d.). "Can Stress Cause Hair Loss?"
Hair loss and antidepressants: International Clinical Psychopharmacology (2018). "Risk of Hair Loss with Different Antidepressants"
Hair loss statistics: Cleveland Clinic (2021). "Hair Loss in Women"
Stress, anxiety, depression and hair loss: BMC Psychology (2019). "The Relationship Between Physical Activity Levels, and Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety and Stress in Individuals with Alopecia Areata"
Wigs: American Cancer Society (2021). "Choosing and Wearing a Wig"