Claudia Notley’s Alopecia Story. 

Meet Claudia, she is 11 years old and started losing her hair at the beginning of 2022 at age 10. The hair loss started above her right ear. More patches started appearing around the back of her head from ear to ear. Within 6 months Claudia had lost all her hair followed by her eyebrows and eyelashes

This time was very traumatic for Claudia and her family, something that was so aggressive and coming from nowhere really hit the family hard. She started seeing a psychologist straight away and this largely assisted with her coping strategies. Throughout the whole ordeal, Claudia has remained extremely positive and resilient. She has the most amazing group of school friends, family and a cheerleading team.  

During her hair loss journey, Claudia has maintained doing what she loves the most and that is cheerleading. At first, she just wore a beanie as her hair was falling out however progressed to wearing a wig. Her cheerleading team and coach were so supportive during her hair loss, they always made her feel very comfortable and some of them even wore a beanie in support

Claudia is a flyer which is the person at the top of the stunts who gets lifted by the team, she has managed with her current lace wig however sometimes feels like it might come off. This makes her a little nervous so we have ordered her a Freedom Wig which will suction-fixate to her head. This will enable her to do all the cartwheels, back handsprings and tumbling whilst feeling totally confident it won’t fly off. She should have the new wig by the end of the year ready for a big year of cheerleading and competition in 2023. 

The unexpected financial strain that the disorder has come with has been a bit of a shock with Dermatologist & Psychologist appointments, medication, wigs & accessories. The Silver sponsorship that has been generously given by the Australian Alopecia Areata Foundation (AAAF) has given Claudia relief and has enabled her to continue doing a sport that she loves so much. This is instrumental to her coping with the disorder and adjusting to her new way of life.

Thank you AAAF!

Jesse-James Ferguson’s Update #3

Time for an update on all things Alopecia Universalis in my world…it’s been 3 months since I last updated everyone. Since September, I have been attending my martial arts classes twice a week to get more tags to earn my black belt. The good news is that I got another tag so I’m close to having enough to meet the criteria for the next grading early next year.

The most recent tag I received was for self-defence. I’m still trying to learn my patterns so I can progress to the next level but memorising patterns isn’t my strong suit.

I missed December’s grades due to the doctor’s orders, who told me to take it easy after a recent change in medication. On this new medication, I have to be closely monitored as both medications lower my blood pressure considerably. I was feeling quite light-headed and tight-chested, having a little trouble breathing and getting a tingly feeling on my head when I took a deep breath, so the dermatologist advised I take half the dose. It seems to have settled down and though not ideal for as quick of a result as if I was taking the full dose, I’m still hopeful that in a few months of suppressing my immune system, I might see some hair growth but so far, no luck. It’s not a long-term solution, but any chance to remember that feeling of having hair (even if it’s just a tiny patch for a brief moment) will be worth it, it’s a mental thing, like a fond memory that makes you smile even though the moment is lost in time. I am being careful to be extra healthy so as to not put my health at risk, since my immune system is on holiday.

I really want to thank the AAAF for their continued support with my sponsorship, it helps me to stay resilient mentally when I’m able to stay healthy physically, through my taekwondo and continuously having new goals to strive toward at ATI helps me to keep the momentum in the rest of my life.

Last week, at my army cadets’ end-of-year parade, I was surprised to receive the Encouragement Award. It means a lot because, despite some setbacks I’ve faced this year with my health, my 507 Unit at Joondalup recognises my efforts and resilience thus far. Also, two of my adult cadet staff leaders have also received the same award in past years, so I know I’m in good company.

I’ve included the pics from my cadet award and my martial arts tag, but as it was an end-of-year party, I’m not in cadet uniform so I’ll have to wait till the New Year to re-do the photo wearing a uniform with my medal. 

Mum said that she would have been nervous about me starting the immunosuppressant therapy if it wasn’t for the AAAF’s Facebook page, reading other members’ comments about their medications having success, especially other teenagers; these comments gave her peace of mind and made her feel more comfortable going ahead with the decision, so I also want to thank you for that.

The AAAF is honestly the best line of support for anyone new or veteran, where alopecia is concerned, because you get to read about it and interact with real-life people who live with it every day, they can tell you what’s what and what they’ve tried; what has been successful or unsuccessful and remind you that you’re not the only fish in the pond.

I’m really looking forward to what 2023 holds and regardless of what may or may not sprout on my scalp…I wish everyone good health and good luck in their own endeavours. Thanks, everyone. 

Tristan’s Sponsorship and Boxing Update.

Australian Alopecia Areata Foundation’s sponsorship program has given me the wonderful opportunity to pursue something I was keen on trying for an awfully long time, that being boxing. I have been so grateful for this experience so far, as having been diagnosed with alopecia along with other health issues, boxing has been a great stress relief for me and has had a positive impact on my overall health and well-being thus far. The first session was as expected; I was totally unprepared and totally unfit for what was to come. Although just starting off with the basics, I would soon learn how physically, and mentally challenging boxing could be even if it was just training on the pads for the most part.

Each session that would pass would become slightly more intense than before, but my form would also grow to match the increasing intensity and combinations that I would learn each week. Every session would also end with strength and conditioning exercises which would include sit-ups, pushups, planking, squatting and burpees which would leave me absolutely exhausted.

I have learnt so much in this time while boxing, even my trainer Faisal wished he had taken a video of me when I first started to see and compare how far I have come on my journey. Both my fitness, power and overall skill have improved dramatically in my time so far. Each session left me red in the face and dripping in sweat which in turn actually benefited my skin as well, which both Faisal and a few of my friends attribute to me sweating and detoxing out toxins through my pores.

It is also exciting to note the extremely positive progression in my hair regrowth during this time. At the start of my tenure in boxing, I was still relatively bald and still unsure of what direction my alopecia would head in. But through consistent visits to Sinclair Dermatology located in Melbourne, following a regime of the medication Baricitinib a day as well as steroid injections every 2 months I can happily say I am back at around 95% full hair regrowth with my dermatologist even insisting I stop the medication altogether. With this regime along with my boxing training and gym workouts, I can confidently say it all had a significant impact on improving my health and giving me remission of my alopecia.

My appreciation for being selected by AAAF is enormous and this will be an experience I will never forget.

Jesse Ferguson’s Alopecia Update.

It’s the 20th of September 2022 and I want to tell you about my progress at taekwondo. There’s good news and there’s disappointing news, but mostly good.

Since the last week of July, I’ve successfully attained 2 of the 5 tags necessary to be able to grade for my black belt. I have been keeping up my weekly attendance at ATI Martial Arts Joondalup and getting new foot and shin guards.

The disappointing news is that I’ve been unwell a few times over the past 2 months and it’s meant I had to miss some of my classes, so I was unable to gain any of the 3 additional tags I needed for this Thursday’s grading. Yes, we grade…even on public holidays, may the Queen’s soul rest in peace. Then, sadly, I got the flu on my birthday 2 days ago and it’s preventing me from being at the grading even as a spectator, so it just means I’ll be working twice as hard once I’m fully recovered to earn those 3 coloured tips to put on my current red with black stripe belt.

In one class, I accidentally put my belt on inside out and it looked like it was a red belt (without the black stripe) so my instructor reminded me to wear it correctly, otherwise, I was dropping down a belt without even realising…attention to detail is part of the values´ system taught in taekwondo.

I have another chance to grade for my black belt in December, which coincidentally is when my next milestone update is…so fingers crossed I have great news to announce.

Now to the most important part: how my AAAF sponsorship has helped me on my journey with alopecia.

It took the financial pressure off my Mum, enough that she was able to set aside money for my new foot and shin guards, which were long overdue and driving my instructors crazy that I was still wearing my junior set from when I first joined at 8 years old (you can imagine how much my feet have grown since then, being 16 now!)

As you have to pay for classes regardless of whether you can attend or not, it was also less stressful knowing my martial arts were paid for, even on days I was sick and couldn’t go. I continue to benefit from doing my martial arts, from both a physical and mental standpoint; they allow me to condition my body in preparation for when I join the army once I graduate in year 12, 2 years from now. They have allowed me to focus on my body as a strong, powerful and resilient vehicle in which to live and take the focus off my scalp in an otherwise superficial society.

My AAAF sponsorship and my martial arts training go hand in hand, delivering healthy viability to stay positive and active while being social at the same time (and that is the most important thing for anyone with alopecia…To not hide away from the world.) 

Outside of ATI, Student Services at my school (Belridge Secondary College) put some AAAF brochures and posters up in the Student Services building; this is where kids go for support from their year coordinator and school psychologist and hopefully, it will bring awareness to kids who have never heard of alopecia before as well, as serve as reassurance that there is a support network should any future students develop alopecia, as I’m sure I’m not the first at my school and won’t be the last. It feels good to know that I am the one to bring awareness about alopecia and the AAAF to my school. I have also managed to accomplish the same at my weekly army cadets unit (507 Joondalup) as nobody there had ever heard of alopecia either, including our Padre (cadet title for psychologist/support staff) so they willingly put some brochures in their office and headquarters too.

I’m still yet to begin my journey on immuno-suppressant therapy as the public health system has a tediously, long waiting list between appointments at the Perth Children’s Hospital. Still, I’ve had my MVR/Rubella and Hep B booster jabs in the lead-up to starting the Methotrexate tablets. In August, I participated in a Pfizer study on people of all ages and genders with different types of alopecia. It took a week and was very detailed, answering lots of questions about diagnosis, medications, symptoms, health professionals, psychological and physical effects, support available and social impacts. I was asked to send videos and photos of myself talking about my alopecia and also any medical costs or additional factors, that prevented me from getting any help for my condition. The pharmaceutical company claims they need all these case studies to put forth their intended medication for FDA approval. Whether it works or not, it’s good to know I’ve been instrumental in the development of a future, potential cure or aid for alopecia.

And yes, of course, I made them aware of the AAAF and all the great work they do to support our alopecia community.

My Alopecia Story – Jamie Duncan

I’m delighted to share with everyone here that I was selected for a music education sponsorship through AAAF’s 2022 sponsorship program, and I couldn’t be more excited about the incredible opportunity.  I am so grateful to AAAF and this community for supporting me on my alopecia journey and wanted to share more about my past, present and personal ambitions for the future – look out for 4th brother!

I think my alopecia story actually started when I was much younger than when I was first diagnosed with Alopecia Areata, which didn’t happen until the age of 27.  At an earlier time in my life, it was never noticeable to me, or anyone else as I recall, as I was an especially cool 90’s pre-teen with a fashionably long-ish middle parting haircut at the time – yo!  When I did have hair on my head, I had thick hair, like my Mum’s I always said, but I do remember a moment one day as a kid, just kind of playing with my hair, and noticing that, as I did, it was coming out in my hands.  I remember thinking, “that’s weird, let me do that again and see if more comes out”, and it did, so I promptly stopped, thinking I might just lose it all if I didn’t!  I didn’t even tell my parents, brothers or friends about it, it was just something that happened and then I completely forgot about it.

That earlier experience did return however, at 27 as I mentioned earlier, and at a time that was easy for me to associate to memory, as my wife Laura and I were excitedly expecting our first child, our daughter Carmen.  After noticing the classic signs of Alopecia Areata, small, Scottish 50 pence piece sized patches, I took myself off to the GP and was duly diagnosed with AA.  It was very much a “do you have any stress going on in your life at present?”, line of investigation, something I think I could always answer yes to, but I was, am, a relatively laid-back individual, and wouldn’t have suggested anything significant as a known source of concern.  Anyway, I was given a treatment of steroid lotion to massage into my scalp and sent on my merry way to see if it helped.

Whether it was the lotion or the excitement of being a new father for the first time I did experience regrowth.  Great, I thought!  Until…  yeah, Laura pregnant again, our beautiful son Donnie this time, and all the signs of progressive AA hair loss all over again.  I personally put it down to coincidence, but whatever it was, this time it wasn’t showing any signs of recovery, not over weeks, months or even years, and I decided that I just had to live with it.  That was probably the first time that having AA was on my mind, and where I was conscious of its effect on my appearance, even though it was no more than about 10% to 15% of my hair back then.  Every trip to the barbers involved an explanation and a lot of people had an opinion on it.  Looking back, I’m actually amazed at how few people actually understood the condition.

Fast forward to a new life in Australia for us all, and at 40 things really took a turn.  I really depended on the AAAF community, as I was losing hair FAST, and EVERYWHERE.  My AA progressed to Universalis and I honestly didn’t know what to do or how to deal with it.  It was emotionally draining, I remember that.  I was anxious and fearful about the state of my general health at that time.  I was waking up with piles of hair on my pillow, showering and handfuls of hair coming out in my hands.  I was open to trying anything and spent months in treatment for steroid injections in my scalp, as that was a priority for me if anything could be done.  I remember experiencing minor benefits in one area, only to be losing hair in another, it was very difficult.  I was never a hairy man, but eyebrows, eye lashes, face, under arms, arms, legs all lost hair and you can’t prepare for that happening or the emotional and psychological impact of that.

I braved the shave.  I took myself to the barbers the first time I decided to do it.  The guys there were great!  We started on a gauge 4, then a 3, a 2, 1 and even zero.  I still wasn’t satisfied and said, “can you just use a razor?”  I got the cleanest shave I’d ever had in my life – and it felt amazing, different, but amazing!  I quickly realised this was something I’d need to master at home and have been shaving daily ever since – you see I still have little patches of facial and head hair.

It was tough, but with the love and support of family, friends and great communities like AAAF, I was able to get through it, and I now spend every opportunity I’m presented with helping less aware people understand alopecia better.  Keeping my mind on family, health, happiness, work and fun is a great distraction from alopecia and that’s where the sponsorship comes in.  I’m an aspiring creative, with a love of house music and I write, produce and DJ for fun in my spare time.  With the support of AAAF’s Sponsorship Program, I was able to sign up to a program of courses at Point Blank Music School in London, where I take classes online, collaborate with classmates from around the world and have had the most amazing time learning today’s technology for producing music.

Remember 4th brother?  Taking the course has given me the confidence to progress my music goals, and this year I kicked a life goal with AAAF’s support, releasing my first piece of music publicly and dedicated to AAAF “4th brother – feels good (aaaf demo mix)” on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Amazon Music and others and I hope to release more in the future too.  It’s been amazing to have the support to help develop my skills, build my confidence and share my music and I couldn’t have done it without this support, so THANK YOU AAAF, you do amazing work in support of so many and I really, really appreciate it.
Jamie / 4th brother

Brigette’s Story.

My name is Brigette Lucas, I am 34 years young and I have an autoimmune condition called Alopecia Areata.

My friend in High School noticed that I always had hair collecting on my jumper, like the way a cat or dog’s hair always sticks to your clothes, but in my case, it was my human bio hair sticking to my school jumper. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I had so much hair that a little shedding was okay.

It wasn’t until I was 19 years old, after completing High School and when I’d moved from Rural NSW to Sydney, that my hair rapidly started to thin on my head. I found it hard to cover the hair loss and although social media existed, we didn’t have these little pockets of life where women with hairloss existed and shared their wig reviews, or head scarf tutorials, or just someone else existed with Alopecia. I had no friends losing hair, I talked with my Doc and we got a consultation booked with a Dermatologist.

I was diagnosed with Alopecia Areata.

At the time I didn’t even know what that meant… I was, or felt, very alone, scared and confused. I remember asking the doctor to write the word down because I thought he was using Dr lingo or Latin.

My journey has been long and it hasn’t been a quick, “I’m okay now” not for me, or for anyone just joining this community. I’ve grown with Alopecia. I used to feel that it took my identity and that it defined me… but now I think it’s just an aspect of me.

I like to remind myself that I am more than my hair loss; I’m more than my wig, or my turban, or my balding head and you are too.

So with years of learning, the hurt, the anger, the sadness, the why me?… I’ve decided to let it all go. It crops up every now and then and catches me off guard. I cry about it. Talk to friends about it and then return to letting it go as best as I can.

I’ve found that with my body getting older, it hurts in places… I know I’m only 34 years young, remember? But I’ve decided to take up physical activity to alleviate some of the pain. I’ve started pilates. It has so many elements of dance, which is something I did as a young girl. My body is really excited for the challenge and to be moving again.

I can’t wait to feel good in my bones.

Talk to you all soon about it

Brigette Lucas Xx

Bren’s Alopecia Story.

Bren is a biologist that has lived most of her life with alopecia. She started losing her hair when she was five years old, all while she was going through a very rough moment with her family, but even when that was over, the hair loss was not. Bren tells us a bit about her journey; wigs, revealing her hair loss to coworkers, love, acceptance, and more.

This is Bren’s alopecia story.

Walk in my shoes, by Jo.

The word “alopecia” means hair loss. Alopecia Areata is an auto-immune disease that results in hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. It can range from small, individual smooth patches of hair loss, to total loss of all hair on the body – including ear and nose hair. Alopecia Areata is not uncommon, and current estimates suggest that 2% of the population will be affected by the condition at some point in their lifetime1. Alopecia Areata can be a lifelong condition, and can deeply affect self-image, self-esteem, confidence, and even mental health. But there is hope. Jo shares her personal and moving story.

EARLY DAYS

One day at work in July 2019, a friend asked me if I had burnt my hair with my hair straightener. She noticed a small 20 cent sized patch of missing hair. I had never noticed it. I saw my GP who referred me to a dermatologist who diagnosed me with Alopecia Areata (AA). Alopecia was definitely something I had heard of. I always assumed Alopecia was the complete loss of hair and not small circle patches.

Rapidly, that 1 small patch transformed into an AA ophiasis pattern (a unique pattern of hair loss, where the hair around the entire outside of my head fell out). Losing my hair and identity was incredibly traumatising and upsetting. I had no history of AA and prided myself on how fit, active and healthy I was. As I have now learned, AA is an autoimmune condition and can impact you at any age and health status.

Despite being a very confident person, I only told my partner, parents, and brother about my condition. I was embarrassed, fearful, and sad that I no longer looked like ‘me’ anymore. The one blessing of COVID-19 was I didn’t have to leave home and answer people’s questions about my hair.

THE BREAKTHROUGH

AA is a hard illness to sit within yourself. There is no cure and not all treatments work for everyone. Unfortunately for me, AA ophiasis pattern is very rare and also very resistant to treatment.

I feel very lucky to have a family who works in the medical field so discussing treatment options and medication came naturally. I joined AAAF (Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation) for support, read medical journal articles on new treatments, spoke to my medical team, and joined other support networks.

As a psychologist, the strategies I ask my clients to use, I had to apply to myself included deep breathing, mindfulness, grounding, self-acceptance, and rejection of traditional beauty standards. I am grateful that I know my partner and family love me no matter what. I feel that having their support also helped me to be brave. There were lots of nights I laid awake feeling anxious and wondering “what if I lose all my hair?” “what if I am like this forever?”.

After 2 years of treatment which included- painful injections, an intense steroid medication, and very expensive autoimmune suppressant medication, I have had some hair re-growth. In April 2021, I relapsed and some new patches formed with incredibly rapid hair loss.

I also started wearing wigs which was another journey in itself. The anxiety of “what if people notice I am wearing a wig and ask me about it?” is huge and one I still have not faced. Other than my family, I have told no one I wear a wig. I still haven’t come to terms with that in myself.

In this picture of me, I was in “remission” and only had small patches easy to cover with my long hair sections. Flares and recurrence can happen at any time, so this disease never leaves me completely and I need to manage my way through the ups and downs.

REFERENCE

AND TODAY

The financial burden I have carried from multiple treatments, expensive medication, and wigs (none is subsidised) is approximately $15,000 to date. I was fortunate that I have good health literacy, family support, and financial stability to try to fight my AA.

Today I have done a lot of work to accept AA in myself and what it means for me moving forwards. In the morning I take my medication, put my wig on and go about my day as a psychologist. I have to see my dermatologist regularly to manage my hair loss. I often remind myself that AA is not my fault and I did not choose this. I have made peace with my condition and know my worth is not defined by my hair or lack thereof.

1. Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation. About Alopecia Areata. About Alopecia Areata | Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation (aaaf.org.au). Accessed 20/01/2022

Advice from the community

Hello, dear Alopecia family. We have spent some time collecting advice from our beloved community, so you could access our ultimate compilation of advice.

Some advice has been edited to allow us to feature each person and to create an enjoyable reading:

Be proud of yourself and everything about you including your bald head, but cover it up when in the sun or when cold. It’s ok to hide if you need privacy or aren’t up for having your uniqueness on display at that moment.

Alana

There is always someone worse off than you. You have people who love you and you can achieve anything you want. I remember as a little girl my prayers weren’t for me but, they were for people worse off. In the long run, it’s devastating not having hair, but it’s only hair.

-Claudia

Never hide, you will only hurt yourself by pretending you’re something you’re not. I’m not saying don’t wear wigs; do what makes you comfortable, but don’t be ashamed or embarrassed, genuine people will be kind and the others don’t matter.

-Chloe

Acceptance is the key to living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.

Acceptance is gained differently for different individuals. Some learn peace through yoga and meditation, some need friends and family support, and others may benefit from counseling.

-Linda

My advice to anyone living with Alopecia is to be open about it. The amount of
people who have told me about their alopecia or a family member because I
openly talking about my wigs or because I take them off in front of people has amazed me.
The more open you can be, the more you will find yourself comfortable with
your own hair situation and inspire others to open up.

-Corinne

Be Bold,
Be Bald,
We are all different and that is beautiful.
Please accept yourself and remember your awesomeness regardless.
Learn to love yourself and follow your dreams.
Smile and be happy.

– Pauline

Learn to love yourself as you are and talk about how you are feeling. It may take time to come to terms with your alopecia, and some days you may feel sorry for yourself, but that’s ok. Above all, remember your hair loss does not dictate how you can approach life. Breathe, relax and share in all the beauty around you.

-Bridgette

Practice kindness to yourself, celebrate your differences and uniqueness. Surround yourself a positive, inclusive and supportive community. Acknowledge feelings, don’t try to hide from them. You are beautiful, you are strong and you’ve got this

– Zoe

Do what you feel is right for you and believe in yourself.

– Airlee

Wake up each morning and know that you are beautiful with or without hair.

-Sienna

Own it, take the power from anyone who tries to put you down, because bald is beautiful.

-Kayla

Smile at everyone you meet, then you will always be beautiful

-Michelle

Improve what you can change and learn to accept what you can’t.
You only live once, make the most of it!

-Anne.

Accept that some days you will feel fine with no hair, others you will feel freaky.
Focus on the positives whenever you can – no waxing, shaving, hair removal cream, no hairdressing salons (I use to hate reading magazines and doing a small talk at the hairdressers – haha) no grey hair, a 5 min shower, and the ability to change your style and color at any time!
Have your explanation, and various versions of it ready, so you are comfortable when other people mention your wig or no hair. (Have a version for kids, work colleagues, friends, etc
I used to worry about upsetting people, making them feel awkward when they find out I have no hair…

– Don’t –

Just explain it confidently and that puts them and you at ease.

-Helen

The first thing you are going to need is a strong support system. It is a rough emotional ride and there’s, unfortunately, no book out yet called “So you’ve just been diagnosed with Alopecia”. You may want to isolate yourself but what you need to do is find other people who have this condition and take your Mum or a trusted Best Friend with you. Find a support group in your town or city or start chatting online.
Start slow and try to learn as much as you can about different types of eyebrow wigs, eyelashes, eyelashes, tattoos, and wigs as there are many styles such as monofilament, human, synthetic, virgin, suction, etc! You may decide you don’t want to replicate what you looked like previously and are happy to be bold and brave and out there.

Being in denial is also unhelpful for your wellbeing; blocking out your condition and how you feel about it with any substances is going to do a lot of damage in the long run and it probably won’t help you to grow your hair back.

Be prepared for the unexpected when you tell someone special because others’ reactions can really impact your mental health.

In hindsight, what I can tell you now, is that it’s important to get to a point of acceptance as quickly and as healthily as you can. This happened to you but it doesn’t have to define you. Find out what makes you happy and continue to do those things with people you love. For me, it’s going fishing on the beach, and I sure could use a hat with hair for that!

-Tamara

Photos taken from our 2021 camps.

Access the PDF on advice from the community here.

View the advice slideshow below:

Mental Health, Alopecia, and Meditation

Alopecia is never life-threatening or extremely physically painful, however, the psychological impacts of alopecia can be devastating.

On the less severe side of those psychological impacts are feelings of isolation, embarrassment in social situations, and guilt. Individuals with alopecia may also experience grief over the loss of their hair or socially withdraw.

On the more severe side, alopecia is associated with an increased prevalence of psychiatric disorders such as a major depressive episode, anxiety disorder, social phobia, or paranoid disorder. It impacts an individual’s sense of self and identity and can lead to personal, social, and work-related issues.

There’s no cure for alopecia or the mental health issues that can come along with it. But, in recent years, extensive research on meditation has offered some insight into the potential mental and emotional health benefits of mindfulness. 

What Is Meditation?

First documented in India between 5,000 and 3,5000 BCE, meditation has been around for thousands of years. The main benefit of a meditation practice, in terms of mental health, is developing mindfulness. That is, regular meditation results in a more mindful life.

But what is mindfulness? It’s a state of awareness in which you focus on the present moment. When you’re being mindful, you’re aware of everything happening inside and outside your body, including thoughts and physical sensations. Importantly, you’re aware of these things and you don’t pass judgement on them. You accept that they’re there and you recognize that there’s no need to change them.

Meditation is a vehicle for practicing mindfulness. Of course, it would be difficult to practice awareness of thoughts and sensations in the middle of a busy, noisy room. Meditation gives you the opportunity to tune into these subtle ques and slip into a state of awareness.

How Does Meditation Help with the Mental Health Aspects of Alopecia?

Meditation and mindfulness can relax the body and mind. But science has only just started to look into the less obvious benefits of meditation and mindfulness, including coping with pain, improving attention, and rewiring neural pathways so that we’re able to change habits and other behavioral patterns.

Practicing meditation to develop mindfulness is less about keeping your mind clear of thoughts, as is often the perception, and more about taking the power away from your thoughts and emotions. As you continually practice coming back to your breath and dismissing thoughts without judgment during a meditation, the way your brain and nervous system react in response to intrusive, anxious, self-deprecating, or depressive thoughts in real life also begins to change.

Although researchers aren’t 100% sure quite how this works, a recent study out of Yale University offers some insight. The study looked into the impact of mindfulness meditation on the default mode network (DMN) in the brain. 

The DMN is the program our brain switches to when our minds are just wandering. Having an overly active DMN is associated with unhappiness, ruminating, and worry (about both the past and the future). It’s from this mind state that we question our appearance, diminish our self-esteem, and think all of the thoughts that cause stress, anxiety, and depression

What the researchers found is that meditation can quiet the DMN. What’s more, when the mind did go into the DMN state, people who meditated regularly could take themselves out of it better than others. This may be one of the reasons why meditation is so great at reducing stress, anxiety, and depression as well as improving self-image and self-esteem – aka all the emotional and mental health issues most associated with alopecia.

Getting Started

Meditation is something that’s accessible to everyone. There are no side effects, it doesn’t cost a penny, and you can do it every day.

But how do you get started? We recommend starting small. Trying to meditate for 25 minutes at a time when you’re first beginning is going to be difficult and not achieving your goal could have you quitting before you ever get started. Instead, start with putting three to five minutes aside, and follow these instructions:

  1. Find a quiet space where you’ll be free of distraction for your entire practice.
  2. Take a seat or lay down if it’s more comfortable.
  3. Set a timer for the amount of time you’d like to meditate (beginnings shouldn’t start with any more than five minutes).
  4. Check in and make any last necessary adjustments to ensure you’re comfortable.
  5. Close your eyes, place your hands either palm up or palm down on your knees, and straighten your spine.
  6. Now, notice your breath. Notice your breath as you inhale and exhale and how your belly rises and falls with each breath.
  7. If your mind wanders or thoughts enter your head, which they inevitably will, just notice it, return to your breath, and let it pass.
  8. Don’t pass judgement on your thoughts or yourself. Don’t try to change it. Simply notice and return to your breath.
  9. When the timer is up, don’t open your eye and jump up immediately. Take time to open your eyes to the light and to come back into your environment.

Remember that meditation is a practice. That is, you develop it over time, so don’t be discouraged should your mind wander often or if you find it difficult to return to your breath. Some days will be easier than others and the important things with meditation is that you’re consistent.

Additional Resources for Your Wellbeing

Meditation is a way to practice mindfulness, and mindfulness allows us to be present with our thoughts and emotions without judgment or the need to change them. Bringing mindfulness into our lives takes power away from those thoughts and emotions and, in turn, improves the mental health of practitioners. For individuals with alopecia, this may be one incredible way to deal with anxiety, depression, social phobias, and self-esteem issues.

But there are other ways, too. Check out more support resources here.

The opinions expressed in this article are not that of AAAF, but of their Sponsorship Recipient, Sheridan Ruth. 
Sheridan received a sponsorship from AAAF for her meditation practice. You can also receive sponsorship by clicking here to learn more

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