I lost a lot of hair over the past eighteen months. I do not have bald spots, but it has thinned out tremendously, to about half of what I used to have. It began when I was on the last year of my doctorate and particularly during the dissertation phase. When I began caregiving for my elderly father, it accelerated. I wish I could say it got better after I was no longer in school or caregiving, but some things have exacerbated my stress the last few months and there has unfortunately been no reprieve.
The level of the problem became clear to me when Larry and I were on a getaway and within three days I had clogged up the hotel shower drain. At first, Larry didn’t notice the gradual thinning, but finally, he and my hairdresser both said, “Yes, this is definitely happening.” Most people tell me my hair looks great, and they can’t see any problem with it. I appreciate that. I work hard every day to style it and have it look good, but my point is — it’s harder because there is less of it to work with. And, I want that to change.
I wondered if I had an underlying disease that was causing this. My primary care doctor said stress alone can do this to a person. Come to find out, it’s your dermatologist who is the doctor who typically investigates what’s going on when you struggle with hair loss.
Last month, my dermatologist ran a battery of tests to find out the reason behind my hair loss, and a few days ago the results came back, and the conclusion is that there is no underlying disease causing this. My hair loss is solely from stress.
I have been taking vitamins and Tranont Glow the past few months in an effort to bring my hair back to its former thickness. Until it thickens again, it is necessary to do a comb over in certain spots to cover the thin places. I have come to the realization that all of the vitamins and special remedies in the world are not going to make up for what is happening to me internally as a result of the pressure I’m under. So, this calls for an immediate course correction to address it. As I mentioned, the stress has shifted from school and caregiving to other situations, but regardless it’s time for me to step in to intentionally address the issue. A body can only take so much before it breaks down (the body keeps the score!) and it’s up to me to make the changes that are necessary because no one is going to do it for me.
I thought it might be helpful to share my plan with others who may also be in need of a course correction. It’s important to note that I realize this does not help anyone who has hair loss for other reasons besides stress. If you have another condition that causes your hair loss, other courses of action will be required. There are resources to help with that, and I am not an expert. But, one resource I want to recommend is my friend Jodie Cremeans, who has started a YouTube channel called Crown Confidence.
Okay, back to stress relief. Here’s what I’m putting in place in an effort to try to thicken my hair up again.
Reinstate a strong boundary concerning my Sabbath Day
When I was growing up, I mistakenly thought that honoring the Sabbath day simply meant honoring the Lord’s Day by going to church on Sunday. That’s not what it means. A Sabbath is a 24-hour period of doing what restores and renews you. It could be physical rest or sleep but isn’t necessarily so. It is any pursuit that restores you. I had been in the habit of Sabbath for several years when I went through my master’s and doctoral programs and learned so much about the importance of it. One of the resources that taught me a lot about this was the book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggeman. It was assigned reading by my professor, Dr. Chris Corbett, and it is a fantastic resource that I will always refer to.
After learning the importance of taking a Sabbath, I began faithfully scheduling my Sabbath day a year in advance, to ensure that I had a 24 hour period of rest each week. And then, I got out of that habit when I was caregiving because everything got turned upside down. Now that I am finished with caregiving, I’ve reinstated it again. Nothing is going to get in the way of it again. If my customary Sabbath day cannot take place because of an event I must be at, I change the day of the week that I do my Sabbath, so as to ensure I don’t miss it.
Stop allowing people to schedule things for me
In the past I’d allow plans being made for me to slide, because I just didn’t want to say no. But, that is officially coming to an end at this time. Whether it’s my husband (“Hey babe, we’re going to lunch with Bobby & Betty today…” “Ummm…nope, nope, actually I’m not doing that…have a nice time without me…”) or another well-meaning person who thinks I need to be somewhere I’m not currently scheduled to be of my own accord, the day of someone else making my schedule is O-V-E-R.
Build in Margin
Speaking of scheduling, I am building margin back into my schedule. White space. Space to do nothing but stare at the ceiling or out the window.An opportunity to do whatever puts my heart more at rest than makes it beat faster. One of the books that spoke to me about margin is the book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard A. Swenson. In case you’re noticing a pattern here, I am reading all of these books again that have spoken to me in the past and served as a catalyst for change in my life.
Schedule friend lunch/coffee
I’m guilty of agreeing to attend things I’m roped into doing vs. things I want to do and schedule myself to do. I often prioritize the requests of others over a weekly friend connection. I need at least one outing a week with a friend I choose to meet up with. (To be clear: a friend lunch/coffee is not someone who requests my time so they can “share their heart,” or receive a ministry update or sales pitch to support their ministry project, or a request for me to mentor them, or have me speak into their life in some way.) When I leave a friend lunch/coffee, which is such in all actuality, I feel renewed. When I leave an outing where someone has asked to meet up with me or another reason, I’m usually exhausted by the time I leave. Generally, a friend lunch/coffee is someone I’m inviting to meet with me, not someone who is inviting me to meet with them.
Make sure I’m getting at least eight hours of sleep a night
I’m usually pretty good at doing this, but again, when I began caregiving, everything turned upside down. There were nights I didn’t get eight hours of sleep because it was impossible. I’m getting right-side up again. It doesn’t matter what’s going on, who calls, or whether the world suddenly stops turning on it’s axis, I’ll be getting eight hours of sleep and let the rest of the world figure itself out. Incidentally, a book that changed my life when it comes to sleep is the book Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. I received the recommendation for this a while back at my doctor’s office.
Take time daily for silence
I’m an introvert. I recharge being away from people, and in the quiet. Far too often, I let other things and people crowd out this essential need in my life. I realize that for my own good and the good of others, I need a period of silence every day. It doesn’t have to be for hours. Even fifteen to thirty minutes is transformative. A great read on this that is sitting on my nightstand right at this moment is, Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence by Ruth Haley Barton. You won’t regret picking it up!
This is another one of those things I got out of the habit of doing when I was caregiving. It’s time to start riding my bike or walking every day, again! Moving more helps tremendously with my stress level. I let everything in the world talk me out of it. The phone rings right when I’m getting ready to go do it, or some other urgent matter comes to my attention. I will no longer be ruled by the tyranny of the urgent! In addition to biking and walking, I’m starting to dance more! I’ve always enjoyed it, but particularly since I found out my father was a professional dancer, it is more important to me, not on any type of professional level, just for fun.
I know this sounds totally counter to what I just said. But, hang with me for a minute! In the past few months, I’ve become acquainted with what is known as Slow Living, as well as the Slow Word Movement. I don’t know that I’m ever going to be a person who lives “slow” however I think these folks are on to something! I do want to take steps to move a bit more toward this type of living. Maybe even just a smidgen. I recently met two writers named Jodi Grubbs and Summer Joy Gross and they began educating me a bit on this topic and I’ve been following them. I am reading up on slow living and trying to make some of the adjustments to my life. I want to be fully present in the moment and not have all of life seem like such a blur because it’s going by fast, and I’m under stress.
We’ve all heard the sayings and seen the signs…“Don’t forget to breathe,” and “Just breathe.” There’s a reason for it. We tend to hold our breath when we get stressed. I catch myself doing it all the time. Healthy human beings take time to intentionally breathe. I recently had a Christian woman tell me that she deals with high stress and anxiety and was counseled by her therapist to do breathing exercises, but she is cautious about following that instruction because she feels like it’s “new age.” I shared with her that God gave us our breath and the ability to relax and renew through taking deep breaths. Let’s not let the enemy take away our ability to destress by causing us to believe that he created deep breathing. I am doing a few deep breathing exercises throughout the day and particularly before I go to sleep at night. I am really enjoying an app called Abide Sleep Meditation which is solely based on scripture. These are meditations from the Bible and their tagline is, “Sleep better and stress less, with Christ.” It is good to breathe deeply and focus on God’s Word. For too long, we have let the enemy have the corner on things like breathing and meditation. Both are tools at our disposal to be used in a Biblical way, for our good and God’s glory.
I haven’t added my eating habits or vitamins to this list only because I already eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, etc. and I am already taking vitamins but this would be a great recommendation for anyone, of course.
So this is my plan, friends, as well as some of the resources that are helping me put the plan into place.
I’m hoping things will improve as I attack my stress level intentionally.
Whether you’re losing hair or not, let’s do it together. We are worth the investment.