As you may know, I like encouraging my readers to be proactive health seekers. Most of my writing to date has focused on taking charge of your health and being your own health advocate. But it’s important to remember that a health journey is better when you’re not alone.
Many of us may try to put on a show that there’s nothing wrong with us. However, autoimmunity is a silent disease, so our friends and family might see us looking just as good as we normally would, and assume we don’t need help. They don’t realize we feel sick or are just struggling to get by. But it can be very lonely at the top, so it’s okay to ask for help when we need it. After all, we are human (read: social creatures!), and emotional aspects play a role in our healing as well.
What I’ve found with my clients who don’t get better right away is oftentimes, they get stuck on the emotional component because they have a history of trauma, have self-limiting beliefs about their health or self worth (I’ll be digging deeper into this in future posts), don’t have enough support on board, and/or they feel socially isolated or socially rejected.
Feelings of defeat, disappointment, and social rejection may contribute to alterations of stress and thyroid hormones. (1,2)
While studies in humans would be unethical, researchers have created controlled socially stressful situations to test animals’ hormonal responses to social stress.
Scientists exposed male rats to a “social defeat situation”, where “intruder” rats were dropped into the cages of unfamiliar rat couples. (3) The presence of a rat female makes rat males territorial, so this was like a burglar breaking into the home of a married couple in the rat’s eyes.
The females were taken out before the intruder males were dropped in. The intruder rats were attacked by the resident male rat, and as soon as they were defeated, they were put into a smaller cage, within the resident’s cage, and left in the same cage. Being inside of the little cage within a cage ensured that the intruder rats were still exposed to the winning rat’s scent, reminding them that they were defeated.
Researchers repeated this over and over with the poor intruder rats.
Four weeks of getting dropped into different rat cages and getting attacked by other rats, left the intruder rats with altered thyroid hormones.
T4 and T3 levels dropped by about 50 percent after one week of this social stress. Within four weeks, the rats started exhibiting behaviors that might reflect a loss of motivation (less exploring) and an inability to experience pleasure (not eating sugar, a favorite rat activity).
A different group of researchers did a study in sheep, and isolated them from their flocks, then measured thyroid hormones. Sure enough, the sheep that were isolated from their flocks were found to have altered thyroid hormone levels.
I can’t stress the importance of having a sense of community, support, and simply a person to talk to when going through your life, and especially though your health journey. Time and time again, the people who do best have a strong support network, while the people who I continue to see struggling often lack social support and feel isolated, rejected, and unsupported.
Social stress and lack of support can either prevent us from implementing the changes we need to get better, or put us in a state of “fight or flight” instead of “rest and digest.” Whenever we’re in a poor emotional state, unhappy, or stressed out, our body’s natural defenses are weakened and cannot properly reset the immune system — we need a team who can offer us love, encouragement, and support.
I know that I would not have been able to get to where I am today without the amazing support I have received over the years since I was diagnosed.
“If I had a dollar for every time my mom told me to get out of bed when I was growing up, likely with the beginning stages of Hashimoto’s!”, one of my readers commented.
Some people with Hashimoto’s will try to act like superheroes and minimize their symptoms while hurting inside, while others may exaggerate symptoms in an effort to gain some sympathy from their loved ones.
Either way, I’ve found that most people long for acknowledgement from their significant others.
People often feel misunderstood by their employers, friends, and family members with this condition.
I find it devastating that many of my clients and readers who seek out care and compassion from their friends and family members, are often mistreated.
One woman with Hashimoto’s and gluten/dairy sensitivity recalled a “friend” who invited her over for lunch and assured her that the meal she had prepared for the both of them would be both gluten and dairy free. The woman with Hashimoto’s became ill shortly after eating the meal to the point of needing to call her husband to pick her up. The “friend” revealed that she had hidden “gluten and dairy” in the meal to test her! I say, with friends like that, who needs enemies?
I didn’t have as bad of an experience, but I remember inviting one of my “friends” over shortly after learning about having gluten and dairy sensitivities. I made a meal for us both, and told her about my new lifestyle and how much better I felt. She rolled her eyes and said the meal would be much better with cheese, and proceeded to accuse me of being a hypochondriac. She also accused my doctor of cheating me out of my money by offering food sensitivity testing! Though I knew my body best and had proof that gluten and dairy were not working for me, I felt down and discouraged after that meeting. I always say that I have found that cutting out inflammatory foods works really well for Hashimoto’s, as does cutting out inflammatory people! Eventually, I also realized that unsupportive friendships did not work for me either, and so I chose to focus my time and energy on the people who supported me and lifted me up instead!
Remember that in many cases, you have a choice of who you seek for support.
Pillars of Strength at Home
When I count my blessings, I count my beautiful mother twice! My wonderful mom always believed in me, encouraged me to keep working on my health, and gave me so many wonderful ideas. We have spent countless hours bouncing healthcare theories off one another with many benefits. She inspired me to write my Root Cause book and helped with writing, editing, and researching.
A long time ago and far away (brother, mom, little me)
My thoughtful big brother (who has always been like my own body guard) was the first person in my family who embraced my new diet and even created some new recipes just for me!
My dad was super compassionate and offered his support by making me laugh. 🙂
And of course, my loving husband, Michael, has supported me through this whole process. He stuck with me when I was bloated, grumpy, and lethargic. He made me feel beautiful when I was losing my hair in clumps, struggled with my weight, and felt anything but. He gave me extra blankets and his sweatshirt when I was cold. He tried all of my new diets with me, making it easier to experiment and leave out the foods that were making me sick. He accepted that I needed time to rest and figure things out. Most of all, he loved me.
A Message From My Hashimoto’s Husband
The video included above is something that he made for other husbands who support their wives. It brought tears to my eyes, and I hope it will touch all of you as much as it did me. Michael also started the Hashimoto’s Support for Family and Spouses support group for spouses and family members of those with autoimmune thyroid disease — you may want to share it with them. Often times, our loved ones want to support us but don’t know how, so the group may help them take a step in the right direction.
I believe it’s important to share what Hashimoto’s is with loved ones, so they can understand what you’re going through and help out in the best way that they can. (They may even ask you for some thyroid-friendly gift ideas to help you feel your best — so I’ve created this list for some inspiration that you may wish to share with them! ;-))
How To Get More Support From Loved Ones
You deserve to have people who support you, love you, and trust that you know your body.
In some cases, you may need to gently coach your loved ones on how to properly support you. Thank them for the times when they do something thoughtful and supportive — appreciate that change. Seeing you struggle may actually be difficult for them as well!
In other cases, you may need to set boundaries with people who are unable or unwilling to be supportive of your needs.
In many cases, these relationships can be saved. It is a matter of you standing up for yourself. One suggestion may be to take the person aside and say, “Hey, I really want to talk to you about something. I’m really hurt whenever XYZ, and I don’t feel supported by you. I want us to have a really great relationship, as I really respect and love you. Here are some things that you can do that will be more supportive.” I have had that conversation with different people in my life, and that has been able to save those relationships. Some people are not really aware that they may be hurting you with their actions or their words.
Another thing you could always do is try to encourage them to be a little bit more supportive by saying, “I appreciate how much you love and support me despite all of my XYZ,” or “I really appreciate your advice,” just to acknowledge that they are indeed trying.
On the other hand, some relationships cannot be saved. In extreme cases, your condition may help you realize that some people in your life may be toxic, and though it may be painful to cut them out in the short-term, in the long-term, opening up that space in your heart allows for healing and new opportunities.
This quote by Charlie Chaplin really resonates with me as I continue my healing journey that was triggered by a Hashimoto’s diagnosis: “As I began to love myself, I freed myself of anything that is no good for my health — food, people, things, situations and everything that drew me down and away from myself. At first, I called this attitude a healthy egoism. Today I know it is ‘Love for oneself.’”
Finding Support in Online Communities
Furthermore, I connected with others sharing similar experiences with autoimmune thyroid disease. I am so grateful to be living in the digital age when one can find hope and reassurance in the stories of those undergoing similar circumstances, even when no one else around us seems to know what we’re going through.
This is one of the reasons I created my Thyroid Pharmacist Facebook Page! It’s a place where I share daily tips, inspiration, AND where you can get a bit of guidance on the next steps of your journey, from me or another member of the community! I usually check in daily to answer questions and occasionally pop in for a Facebook chat to connect with everyone!
I’m proud to say that we are over 430,000 members strong, and I love seeing comments from members of our community who have taken back their health after discovering new information on our Facebook Page!
If you haven’t visited in awhile, come and say hello!
Reading success stories shared in these communities and through other online resources was an instrumental part of my healing journey, and I firmly believe that success stories create other success stories.
Here are a few short ones from the Facebook page:
You may also find yourself encouraged by reading some of my readers’ success stories, found on my blog here.
I am especially thankful for wonderful Hashimoto’s support groups on Facebook, such as Living with Hashimoto’s Disease. I personally benefited from one, which I found a few years after my diagnosis. Such amazing online support groups are comprised of an army of highly motivated, smart, supportive women and men sharing ideas of what worked for them, discussing things they were planning to try, and offering support to one another.
Thank you all for sharing your stories and offering hope and encouragement!
If you’re already a member of some of these wonderful groups, but are still feeling like you need additional support, or if you love the idea of helping people come together and thrive on being a leader in your community, you might also consider starting your own support group.
Much to my amazement, one of my team members (who has been navigating Hashimoto’s for a while) recently decided that she needed a local community of people with Hashimoto’s for support and accountability in making lifestyle changes. She found herself slipping off of her nutritional plan with every party or stressful day, and was not managing her stress very well.
After reading a section of Hashimoto’s Protocol about the effects of social isolation on health, she decided to start a group where other people living with Hashimoto’s or a thyroid condition could share solutions, and stories (or the occasional setback) to get inspiration.
In service to the rest of our community, she created a training video on how to set up a Meetup account and create a group! I’m so proud of her — she has stepped up as a leader in her community and is helping to change lives (including her own)!
I love it when my community carries the healing journey to others! Thank you for all that YOU do, whether it’s starting a group, sharing my Hashimoto’s Protocol book, or just passing on a blog that helped your health journey, to those who may be struggling with the overwhelm of information.
Building Your Healthcare Team
Last but not least, I’ve consulted with many healers since 2009. I am grateful for all of the wonderful clinicians I have had the pleasure of meeting. Each person has given me one or more pieces to this puzzle, and has provided me with directions to the next destination in my journey!
Working with a healthcare provider who supports you and is open-minded, is very important and can really make all the difference on your health journey. You are not just a number, and the condition of your thyroid cannot be summed up by your thyroid hormones alone. Your symptoms are real, and you deserve to be given the best care possible, so you can get back to looking and feeling your best again.
You may want to consider making one or more of the following professionals as part of your healthcare team:
- Functional/Integrative Physicians – These physicians have an advanced knowledge of restoring you back to health and performing comprehensive cutting edge health assessments. Their medical specialty is dedicated to finding and treating underlying causes of serious chronic diseases rather than just disease symptoms. Such clinicians approach the body as a whole, and not just the thyroid hormones. The Institute for Functional Medicine has a list of functional medicine practitioners. I have also collected names and contact information of practitioners who believe in the root cause approach, as well as some tips on finding Dr. Right from my Hashimoto’s Protocol book, in these patient guides.
- Chiropractors – Chiropractors have an exceptional understanding of human physiology, and many pursue advanced education in nutrition. They may be able to offer advice regarding lifestyle interventions for thyroid care.
- Naturopaths – Naturopaths focus on restoring the body’s innate ability to heal itself, often through natural and nutritional means. In some states, naturopathic doctors can also act as primary care doctors and offer thyroid hormone prescriptions.
- Compounding or Integrative Pharmacists – Many of these pharmacists pursue advanced nutrition training, especially in the realms of hormone balancing and nutritional healing. They can tailor make hypoallergenic thyroid medications and offer a tremendous amount of guidance. If you are having trouble finding a compounding pharmacist, please see my patient recommended compounding pharmacies list here.
- Acupuncturists – Acupuncture is an ancient healing art that can help to rebalance the immune system.
- Physical Therapists – Physical therapists who are nutritionally and functionally minded can offer a range of support! I’ve come to think of PT’s as miracle workers for resolving long-term pain conditions with specialized plans!
- Nutritionists – Holistic nutrition professionals can help design a healing diet that is appropriate for your needs.
- Health Coaches – Health coaches can help with breaking down big changes into doable chunks, and keeping you accountable!
- Holistic Dentists – Holistic dentists look at the connection between the health of our mouth and the health of our bodies. Many times, dental triggers can be as important, if not more important than even nutrition and hormones, in our healing journeys!
- Therapists – In some cases, having a person who is trained in providing emotional support may be your best bet. A therapist can be especially valuable if you don’t have a strong support network and/or if you’ve had a history of trauma. I have found EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to be a life-changing tool for me and many of my clients.
- Pets – To me, a pet can be a part emotional therapist, part coach! My dog Boomer brings me so much joy, often just by sitting next to me! He also ensures that I am walked daily and gets upset if he senses that I am stressed, which helps me stay in balance.
Although these types of practitioners are often not going to be covered by insurance, they are coming back with unmatched outcomes and numerous success stories!
For further information regarding finding the right doctor for you, please consider checking out the patient guides I put together for my readers, by entering your email below.
Remember, you are not alone! Confide in your friends, family, and even professionals if you need to. There are many Facebook support groups, success stories, and knowledgeable clinicians out there that can also encourage you, help you connect with others, and guide you along your healing journey so that you can get the support you need to reclaim your healthy self back.
I hope that you will find the support you need and wish you all the best on your healing journey!
PS. You can also download a free Thyroid Diet Guide, 10 thyroid-friendly recipes, and the Nutrient Depletions and Digestion chapter of my first book for free by signing up for my weekly newsletter.
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- Helmreich DL, Tylee D. Thyroid hormone regulation by stress and behavioral differences in adult male rats. Horm Behav. 2011;60(3):284-291. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2011.06.003
- Vitale EM, Smith AS. Neurobiology of Loneliness, Isolation, and Loss: Integrating Human and Animal Perspectives. Front Behav Neurosci. 2022;16:846315. Published 2022 Apr 8. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2022.846315
- Olivares EL, Silva-Almeida C, Pestana FM, et al. Social stress-induced hypothyroidism is attenuated by antidepressant treatment in rats. Neuropharmacology. 2012;62(1):446-456. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.08.035
- Bobek S, Niezgoda J, Pierzchała K, Lityński P, Sechman A. Changes in circulating levels of iodothyronines, cortisol and endogenous thiocyanate in sheep during emotional stress caused by isolation of the animals from the flock. Zentralbl Veterinarmed A. 1986;33(9):698-705. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0442.1986.tb00582.x
- Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(4):601-630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601
Note: Originally published in August 2013, this article has been revised and updated for accuracy and thoroughness.