5 Ways to Manage Stress – Alopecian Edition

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.

 1) Disconnect

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.

 2) Reconnect

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.

 3) Reorganise

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).

 4) Examine

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.

 

Headspace
Mental health support for young people between the ages of 12-25. Headspace centres, online counselling support and information and resources all available.

https://www.headspace.org.au/

 

Reach Out
Online mental health organisation with range of support services, information resources, toolkits and aps for managing mental health and physical health.

http://au.reachout.com/

 

Beyond Blue

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.

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

 

Shea on Alopecia Treatments

“It has taken me a really long time to be okay with alopecia being a part of my life. But I still have days when I hate it. When my wig doesn’t go on properly or my eyebrows don’t go on properly or I just want to be like everybody else, to be able to just chuck my hair into a ponytail.”

Shea is one of AAAF’s Support Ambassadors. Here she shares her experiences with treatments for Alopecia Areata and her own personal journey with this condition.

 

*Keep in mind that this video contains some non-graphic discussion of medical procedures. Viewer discretion is advised.

 

Discussion Series: Would you peel the scalp of a two year old?

 

Twenty years ago my journey with Alopecia Areata started.  My son, then 20 months old, had a chicken pox that rested at the hairline on his forehead.  Within days his hair had fallen out and was starting to receded down the center of his scalp.

With no knowledge of the cause and no visible sign of hair regrowth, off we went to the dermatologist.

On inspecting my son, the conclusion was Alopecia Areata. After the general questions probing what that meant, came the question from me “so how do we treat this”.

I’ll never forget the following words.  Continue reading “Discussion Series: Would you peel the scalp of a two year old?”

Power of the bald – Power of me.

This is a struggle for power around accepting this path we are on, and indeed it is a path, not a curse, not a karmic debt or victimization that separates us from others. I see it all as an untying of the knots, a blessing and a valuable lesson on this journey.

We are all born and move through life tying ourselves in knots. Knots are formed through expectations; conditionings, beliefs and they form knots of fear, insecurity, difference and anxiety. We succumb to false identities and ways of being that leave us measuring ourselves against false images of what we should and shouldn’t be.

Continue reading “Power of the bald – Power of me.”

Raising Kids with Alopecia (from ex-kid with Alopecia)

When young kids and teenagers first present with Alopecia Areata, it affects the entire family.

It’s usually a highly emotional, stressful and even scary time. There are so many unknowns with this condition – why it happens, how it might develop, will treatments even work?

That’s why AAAF exists. I’ve spent the last few years involved with the largest Alopecia focused organisation in this country, first as a Youth Ambassador, then Support Ambassador and currently as Secretary. I’ve spoken with dozens of parents and kids trying to come to grips with this new diagnoses, and they’re all asking the same question: What do we do now?

Continue reading “Raising Kids with Alopecia (from ex-kid with Alopecia)”

The Tropical Challenge – Beating the Heat while living with Alopecia

alopecia-and-hot-weather-author-linseyBy Linsey

Living in the tropics and coping with alopecia has been an interesting challenge for me.

I grew up in Indonesia practically on the equator. It was hot, sticky and 100% humidity. When I first got a wig I still had quite a lot of hair on my head— hair that I was not ready to give up on or shave off. I was thirteen and I didn’t want anyone to know I was going bald. I was so ashamed. So I wore my wig on top of my hair, sometimes even to bed. I broke out into heat rash on my head and my face. My skin was not happy and neither was I.

Continue reading “The Tropical Challenge – Beating the Heat while living with Alopecia”

Alopecia as a Fashion Statement

By Gemma

I know what you’re thinking, how can losing my hair (and in my case eyebrows and eyelashes) ever be considered a fashion statement? Young girls are constantly bombarded every day with pictures and videos of women with long flowing effortless-yet-this-actually-took-3hrs-and-20-products-to-do hair, and I could never imagine celebrities like Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez without their iconic hat-rack toppers. Having beautiful hair seems to be one of the biggest fashion accessories in Hollywood, and people without it tend to be looked down on. Hey, look how people talked about Britney Spears’ epic head shaving incident of 2007! Even men are told they must have perfect hair and growing up with my little brother; it seems they take longer than the girls to get their hair ready.

gemma3

So in a world where the ideal hair-do can be narrowed down to a handful styles, how does having no head hair compete with that? Continue reading “Alopecia as a Fashion Statement”

“Alopecian” – A Language Guide

ALOPECIAN
[Pronunciation: al-uh-pee-shee-an]

Noun (Informal): A person who has a form of the hair loss condition known as Alopecia or Alopecia Areata.

Plural: Alopecians

Examples:

  • Alopecian women and girls often have a very different experience with the condition than men and boys, but the common assumption that alopecia is ‘easier’ for males is incorrect.
  • Having been an alopecian for most of my life, I have a very different experience in crowded, public spaces than people who do not have such a visible difference.
  • As an alopecian, I loathe being called an alopecia sufferer.

Continue reading ““Alopecian” – A Language Guide”

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