How to Take Care of Your Hair in High-Stress Times

The holidays are a time for family, love, laughter, and — for some — stress. During the holidays, everyday stressors like traffic, deadlines, and paying the bills are layered with additional events, expenses, and responsibilities. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, people in the US are more likely to feel that their stress increases rather than decreases during the holiday season. What most people don’t know is that there’s a link between the health of your hair and your stress levels.

What is the Relationship Between Stress and Hair?

The state of your hair can tell you a lot about your health. Shiny, healthy hair is often the result of a vitamin-rich diet and a healthy lifestyle, while dull, brittle hair may be caused by an underlying health issue. One of these health issues is stress. Stress can throw your body’s natural processes out of whack, creating shifts and deficiencies. Though stress affects everyone differently, one thing seems to be consistent across the masses: stress wreaks havoc on hair.

Here are a few common ways that stress effects hair and some solutions to help:

The Problem: Dry, dull hair

When stress takes over, your body is prone to imbalances in hormones and bacteria, which can cause dry skin or rashes. A dry scalp can result in flakiness and dull-looking hair. It’s important to resolve this issue as soon as you notice it happening so you can restore your hair’s natural shine and avoid permanent damage.

The Solution: Moisture

In high-stress times, the best way to combat the resulting dry, dull hair is to hydrate your hair from the inside out. First, make sure that you’re staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and limiting your alcohol and caffeine intake. Not only will this minimize other non-hair-related effects of stress, it will help give your scalp the moisture it needs to produce natural oils. Next, apply topical products that help make up for the lack of moisture. This can be achieved through a hair mask, a conditioner, or a leave-in product. Make sure you’re using quality products that will infuse the moisture into the hair shaft.

The Problem: Oily hair

On the contrary, some bodies react to stress by over-producing oil. In this case, the scalp can take on a greasy-looking appearance, making it harder to style. This overproduction of oil might make you think you need to wash your hair more frequently, but that only makes the problem worse.

The Solution: Dry shampoo

Instead of trying to combat the excess oil with more frequent washing, try using a  dry shampoo. A high-quality dry shampoo will soak up the excess oil, leaving a healthy, manageable amount on your scalp. This way, instead of stripping your scalp of necessary oils, you’re simply minimizing the appearance of the extra oils. Dry shampoos can come in aerosol sprays or a loose powder. If you have the choice, opt for an aerosol spray because it makes for easier and more direct application.

The Problem: Brittle hair and excess breakage

Long periods of stress may cause your hair to grow slower than normal. Without new, fresh length, your hair may be more susceptible to breakage. If your scalp produces less oil when you’re stressed, this will add to the breakage, causing your hair to take look and feel brittle.

The Solution: Leave-in treatment

To prevent the ends of your hair from breaking and becoming damaged, apply a leave-in treatment when your hair is wet and let it air dry. Instead of using heat on your hair to style it, try out an air-dry hairstyle. Limiting the amount of heat you use on your hair will help to conserve the health of your ends, which is usually where damage starts. Being gentle with your hair will help to minimize the damaging relationship between stress and hair.

The Problem: Hair loss

In more extreme cases, stress can lead to hair loss. When your body is dealing with stress, it can leave your hair in the telogen phase (a resting time when your hair is released from the follicle) for longer periods of time, resulting in increased shedding and, eventually, patches of thinning hair. For some, this can make the stress worse, which then makes the issue worse. The most effective way to stop this cycle of stress and hair loss is to work on solving both issues: reducing stress (at the root of the problem) and slowing hair thinning from stress.

The Solution: Scalp massages with oil

A great way to speed up the hair growth process is to stimulate the scalp with an oil massage. Not only does this increase blood flow to the hair follicles, but it promotes the growth of healthy hair by providing necessary nutrients. Rub a high-quality hair oil between your fingers to warm it up and then gently massage into the scalp in small circular motions for about 10 minutes. Wash the oil out in the shower with a shampoo and deep conditioner. Avoid getting conditioner on your scalp, as this may clog your hair follicles and prevent growth.

But it’s not all bad news. Among the undesirable effects of stress on hair, there is one myth that we can set to rest...

Does Stress Cause Grey Hair?

Don’t let the phrase “giving me grey hair” scare you… there is not enough evidence to confirm a relationship between stress and grey hair. According to scientists, stress hormones may impact the survival and/or activity of melanocytes, but no clear link has been found between stress and gray hair. The main factor that affects the timing of grey hair is genetics, though increased stress and imbalanced hormone levels may cause greying only slightly earlier than when it would have naturally occurred.

The holidays can tack on a new load of stress to your busy life. In many cases, these increased stress levels make themselves known through a decline in the health of your hair. The relationship between stress and hair is a complicated one. Fortunately, there are actions you can take that will help you regain control of your hair health so that you come out of the holiday season with resiliently gorgeous locks.