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Anxiety and Stress Management

with Patricia A. Farrell, PhD

This blog has been retired. We appreciate all the wisdom and support Dr. Farrell has brought to the WebMD community.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hair Loss and Stress

Hair, it’s often said, is a woman’s crowning glory and so it seems that when hair is lost, it is a major stressor for women, but the same is true for men. For while we may not say it, hair is as important to men as it is to women.

I remember taking a psychology course many years ago and the professor made a point of indicating that, if you wanted to remove one of a person’s most personal displays of their personality, you cut their hair all off. Remember what they did to female Nazi collaborators during WWII? They shaved their heads as a sign of shame and to mark them as pariahs. So, when you remove the hair and the style that goes with it, you do something to the person under the hair.

What causes hair loss and why is it so important and what made me think of it, anyway? I was watching the evening news and Dana Reeve, the widow of actor Christopher Reeve, was at the annual dinner for the foundation named for her late husband. She had long, flowing reddish-brown hair and she looked radiant. I knew that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer and that her treatments were working, but I didn’t give her hair a second thought until she was interviewed.

The actress laughed and touched her hair as she told the interviewer that she had very little of her own hair left right now and she was wearing a wig. Then I remembered one of the last quotes from the late ABC anchorman, Peter Jennings. Jennings, who was being interviewed about his lung cancer, laughed and said he asked his doctors when “the hair will go.” How many TV anchors can you recall who were bald? Not that bald is bad, but TV likes hair on those guys’ heads.

Outside of medical treatments, there are things that can cause hair loss in any of us. Among them are extreme stress, the use of certain birth control pills and some medications, genetic hair loss, medical conditions, dietary deficiencies and probably a few others. One of the treatments for hair loss is actually a medication that was formerly used for regulating blood pressure. The researchers noticed that it had an unexpected side effect; hair growth.

Cancer patients, who certainly have their share of stress, should all be advised that reducing their stress is good for their overall health because they need a strong immune system. Stress saps the immune system of its ability to protect us. If you want to read up on this, find a layman’s book on psychoneuroimmunology, simply referred to as PNI.

So, while you exercise, maintain a good diet and your weight, remember you’re not only doing it to reduce stress, you may be doing it to keep your hair.

Related Topics: Coping with the Pain of Hair Loss, Treating Hair Loss Naturally

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Posted by: Patricia Farrell, PhD at 12:42 pm

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