Before we begin, there is one thing I want to make absolutely clear: This article isn’t about help you lower stress levels in order to start hair regrowth. It’s about lowering stress levels in order to live happier and healthier.
Alopecia Areata is not caused by stress.
Reducing stress is not a cure for Alopecia Areata. Though some people find that their hair loss seems to be related to their long term mental and emotional states, research into this aspect has found little consistent data. Reducing stress does however assist in overall health improvement, and has been found to assist cardiovascular health, digestion, immune function and even skin appearance. The improvement to mood, sleep patterns, over all productivity and happiness also demonstrate the reducing and managing stress can be a vital step in an overall healthy lifestyle.
However, many people living with alopecia areata do experience high levels of stress and anxiety. These feelings of stress could because of fear of the condition, or of telling people about it. Maybe you have concerns about how you look or what people might say. Perhaps you feel anxiety about not knowing if your hair will or won’t fall out completely, or grow back again.
These are all very normal concerns for people living with the condition and there are many places you can reach out to if you feel you need help. But what can you do right now to manage this stress? We’ve done some research and found these options which may help you – and always remember that mental health professionals are the best source of information and advice if you are feeling stress and anxiety.
So you’ve got that feeling, when something is on your mind and you just can’t get it out. You’ve considered it over and over, weighed all your options, itemized and alphabetized your colour-coded pros and cons list. Oh, that last one is just me?
If you’re one of those people whose brain runs a mile a minute and can never seem to stop, you’re in good company. Stress can be especially hard for those of us who are natural multitaskers, because even when we’re not engaging with whatever is causing our concerns, we can still be thinking – and overthinking – them in the back of our mind.
Being able to switch off from our stresses is hard. For the average Australian, work and money are some of the biggest stressors, yet more and more of us are taking our work home with us at the end of the day. Health is the next biggest cause for concern – including one in five Australian’s reporting feeling worried about their mental health.
The most common coping techniques involve disconnecting and distracting ourselves from the causes of the stress. According to the Australian Psychological Society, 87% of us de-stress by watching tv or movies, 80% by listing to music and 76% by reading.
For me the answer is video games. I know, I know, full grown adults don’t spend their evenings playing video games. Except they do. A study last year by Bond University found that the average Australian gamer was 33 years old.
I find video games to be the perfect way to switch off overactive thinking. I love movies and watching TV, but I can easily watch something and still be freaking out about stressful things in the back of my mind. Video games require focus and penalize distraction. Perfect.
While disconnecting from the thing that is making us feel stress can improve our mood for a short time, socialization or physical activity can be hugely effective in long term stress management. In fact over 83% of Australians believe that spending time with friends and family or doing something physically active is moderately to highly effective at relieving stress.
Re-establishing our connections to the things that really matter has a positive impact on our day-to-day lives. That could mean unplugging for an hour to spend some time walking your dog, cooking and eating a meal together with your family, or taking the time to catch up with friends. Taking the time for these things may feel frivolous when the pressure is on at work or your schedule is on overdrive, but lowing stress will improve not only your happiness, but your productivity as well.
I’m not a naturally neat person. My clothes tend to fall where I drop them and I can never find my car keys. And yet my house is always tidy. Like, weirdly tidy. The floor is vacuumed to strict schedule; the bed is always made up like something from an IKEA catalogue; there is a meal plan pinned to the spotless fridge.
What’s my secret? I’m a stress cleaner.
Much to the bewilderment of my sister who is more of a stress ‘let it slide’-er, the moment I feel in any way stressed or out of control, I lunge for the duster. Putting things in their place, making things tidy is the quickest instant fix for making me better when I’m stressed.
I know full well that not everyone has this sudden urge to scrub when the anxiety inducing emails start flying in. In fact, despite plenty of evidence that cleaning does boost mood and improve mental health, for some people stress and other negative emotions can severely reduce motivation for activities like cleaning. And that’s okay – there are other things you can do to serve the same benefit.
If I don’t have time or inclination to re-alphabetize all of my bookshelves, the next best thing is a quick game of solitaire. Anything that involves putting things in order or in the right place helps to re-establish my sense of control over my immediate environment, which helps me combat rising anxiety levels. Lots of other games work great for this as well – from jig saws and puzzles to more traditional video games (just not the violent ones).
The ultimate weapon in the fight against stress? Working out what is causing it and how you can deal with it.
Sometimes this is relatively straight forward. “I’m stressed because my final exam is in a week and I feel underprepared.” Well that’s okay my friend, a lot of people feel that way. In fact I’d bet a lot of people in your class probably feel that way – so reach out to them and ask to meet up for a study group. Not only will the social interaction help to elevate tension, but studying in a group is actually better than studying alone.
Some stresses may be more complicated. Sometimes it feels like anxiety comes out of nowhere and it’s hard to pinpoint specific things that are causing those feelings. That’s okay and it’s normal, but it is worth putting the time and effort to examine how we feel and work through those emotions. There are loads of different things you do to sort through complicated feelings.
If you’re like me and find you think best out loud, then get a trusted friend of family member – or a mental health professional if that works for you – and talk out your feelings. Discussing and explaining your emotions to someone who is sympathetic can help you work through them and you can collaborate on strategies.
You might find that you work better writing things down, perhaps through journaling or even creative writing or poetry. Increasingly popular meditation and mindfulness exercises are another scientifically supported method of managing stress and anxiety. These days there are some great apps for guided meditation and mindfulness – Headspace and A Smiling Mind are the two most popular.
It can be very confronting to really examine what we’re stressed about. Often there are no easy answers. But identifying our concerns and finding solutions is vital to moving on from stress.
- Reach Out
Did you know that one in seven Australian’s has sought the help of a psychologist or other mental health professional to help manage stress?
Recent research published by youth mental health group Headspace found that half of young people waited over 6 months to get help. Financial concerns were a factor but many people reported that they didn’t believe they could be helped or were afraid of what people would say.
It is never too late or too early to seek assistance in coping with stress, anxiety and mental health. AAAF is always here to help provide you with resources to cope with alopecia areata.
The contact details for a few mental health service providers are below. If you need to talk to someone immediately, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit https://www.lifeline.org.au/ to access their crisis support text based chat.
Mental health support for young people between the ages of 12-25. Headspace centres, online counselling support and information and resources all available.
Online mental health organisation with range of support services, information resources, toolkits and aps for managing mental health and physical health.
Support organisation focused on depression and anxiety, with range of support services and information for individuals and those supporting someone going through hard times. Chat and phone support as well as support forums are available.