The majority of us probably notice a grey strand or two as we get older. Initially, it can be worrying, especially if we think we’re going grey prematurely, but it happens to pretty much everyone. That being said, it has been rumoured for a while that stress can make you go grey prematurely. We certainly see that happening with people who’ve been in high stress jobs such as presidents or prime ministers, in pictures before and after they leave office. But what’s the actual cause and can we turn the grey tide?
Why Does Anxiety Cause Greying?
Honestly, it’s a bit of a mystery to scientists. We can empirically see that stress can cause premature greying, but the scientific process behind it is remaining elusive. Recent studies have indicated that it might be to do with the effect adrenaline has on the pigment-producing cells that colour the hair within the hair follicle.
Adrenaline is a stress hormone that gets released when our caveman brain activates our fight, flight or freeze reaction. This caveman brain is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. It’s primary concern is keeping us alive, even though, when we’ve got anxiety it can misfire and misinterpret events as life-threatening when they’re actually not, therefore causing more and more anxiety about lower-stress situations.
So, the more adrenaline that is released the more stem cells in the follicle convert into pigment-producing cells, rather than just some of them which is how it functions normally. This is a problem because there’s a limited amount of pigment-producing cells and when they’re gone there’s no colour to the hair, thus showing as grey hair.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response and accompanying increase in stress hormones, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing and keep moving. This should calm our central nervous system, deactivate the fight, flight or freeze response and allow our body’s biochemistry to begin to realign itself to homeostasis, or our natural balanced state.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.