Stress is a silent killer. We know that stress can have a negative effect on our overall wellbeing and many of us with hair loss understand that stress plays a huge part in it.
How does stress affect our body?
Most of us understand the fight or flight concept that we learned in high school biology. That is, when in sudden and present danger our brain perceives the threat, and releases a hormone response that signals to the rest of the body that there is a danger.
This in turn raises our blood pressure, causes us to breathe faster, expands the airways in our lungs, dilates our blood vessels and releases glucose into our blood stream. All of this then, increases the flow of oxygen and fuel around our body, especially to the muscles. From there we can respond to the danger.
But in these modern times, many humans are exposed to long term chronic stress. This could be things like the constant worry about a loved one, the worry or fear of Covid, financial stress, an abusive relationship.
All of these are stressful situations that can be ongoing. This level of stress is particularly difficult for our body to cope with. It has to learn to adjust. The problem with long term adjustment to these long-term stressors, is that it can lead to the gradual development of chronic disease.
Some of the common chronic diseases caused by long term stress are high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s, and as we all know, hair loss in women.
What about our brains? There is quite a lot of evidence around memory loss, cognitive decline, and chronic inflammation.
There would appear to be accumulating evidence pointing to inflammation also being linked to cognitive decline and a risk of dementia, which in turn can lead us back to stress. These things are all interconnected.
Chronic stress leads to a sustained increase in the body’s stress hormones. If these elevated stress hormones and cortisol in particular are raised long term, this can lead to damage to the blood vessels and an increased possibility of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
Another issue with long term raised stress hormones is the change to the body’s response to the use of its energy stores. This in turn increases appetite and hunger which leads to the build-up of fat stores and therefore to weight gain. Weight gain, amongst many other things, can lead to chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can also lead to the suppression of the immune system which can lead to disease such as cancer and some auto-immune diseases. Again hair loss can feature here.
Now you know why they call stress the silent killer. And if inflammation can lead to so much, what can we do about it?
In short, improve your diet, your sleep, and your stress levels. Of course, once again, these are interconnected. And not so easy to fix overnight.
While there are many websites, books, and gurus with advice on each of these three, I want to focus on just one thing that I believe can have a huge healing effect on our body, mind and soul. And on all three at once.
I have been practicing breathing for a long time now.
I know this may sound like crazy talk if you haven’t heard of it. But if you Google it, you will find lots of information. And you don’t need to practice meditation or yoga to do this. Anyone can.
Basically, I started using breathing techniques initially to improve my memory. I was aware that due to my body’s response to stress, elevated cortisol, insulin resistance, and chronic inflammation, I was starting to notice my memory was lacking in some areas.
I did a lot of research on memory improvement techniques and tried them all! I love a good cryptic crossword, and hoped that doing more of those would increase my overall brain function, and it may have. But I really don’t have the time to sit and nut out a cryptic each day.
Eventually I found breathing exercises. And the results are astounding.
There are lots of exercises that specialists in this field recommend, but I just do two of them many times a day.
According to neuroscientist, Professor Ian Robertson deliberate, deep breathing is the brain’s reset button and is the most precise pharmaceutical you could ever give yourself, side effect free!
Professor Robertson says that breathing exercises are known to reduce stress levels, improve memory and cognitive function, help you get back to sleep (I use this frequently and it works!) but best of all, the longer-term effects can help you control your overall stress response. We know this is important because over time this can put your body into a calmer resting state, and potentially reduce chronic inflammation. And in the long run taking better care of yourself and your stress levels is good for your hair!
It is commonly used in meditation, yoga and tai chi as many of you will know. Here are two exercises to get you started.
Breathing Exercises for Stress Relief
Breathe in through your nose for the count of 4, hold for a count of 7 and exhale through your mouth to the count of 8. You can do this any time. In a meeting, during the night when you are lying awake but would rather be asleep, during the day when you notice your breathing is shallow or you are having trouble concentrating. Do this up to 10 times or for as long as it feels right for you. It may take a while to get used to it, you may start yawning as you try this. But over time, you will get used to it and it feels good! Repeat a couple of times a day or whenever you think of it.
The second exercise is specifically for the brain and actually has many documented benefits. This one is called “Alternate Nostril Breathing” or ANB. Block one nostril, breath in through the other one for 5 seconds, hold for 5 then block the nostril you just breathed in with and breath out through the other nostril. Alternate between nostrils and do this 5 times. Begin and end on the left nostril. Only start off with a few of these at one time, and only increase if you feel fine.
The simple art of breathing can have a positive effect on your mind, your body, your stress levels and ultimately, your hair.
Do this often and your body (and ultimately, your hair) will thank you!
About the Author:
Bambi Staveley is a nurse (RN), author of How to Make Thin Hair Fat - Causes and Solutions of Unexpected Thinning Hair in Women (published by Barrallier Books 2016) and herself a female hair loss sufferer. Following her own hair loss journey which began in 2008, Bambi dedicated her life to female hair loss research and to finding some way to solve the mystery and at the very least, cover up the problem so it was her own secret. Naturally, once she was able to both cover up her hair loss and eventually, grow her hair back, she was driven to share that information with female hair loss sufferers the world over.
Ader R, Godbout JP, Johnson RW. Aging, neuroinflammation and behavior. In: Ader R, editor. Psychoneuroimmunology. 4. Boston: Elsevier/Academic Press; 2009. pp. 322–345.