When I set out on the road to recovery from Hashimoto’s, I invested countless hours in finding the right diet, experimenting with supplements, and adjusting my medications to feel better. And for a long time, those things worked! I had more energy, my hair started to grow back, my acid reflux went away, and I found myself more productive than ever. I even wrote my first book!
But there were moments where I was just so exhausted and irritable, despite taking thyroid medications and following a gluten/dairy free diet. I remember seeing the effects of stress beginning to take a toll on my body, and thinking, all of the diets and supplements in the world cannot make up for the body’s response to constant stress.
That’s when I realized that I needed to slow down, say “no” a little more often, and incorporate self-care into my daily life. Otherwise, I was at risk of ending up right back where I started… exhausted, anxious, and losing my hair!
The mindfulness practices that I began incorporating into my life have stayed with me to this day, as I see them as a crucial piece of the puzzle that keeps my stress manageable and my Hashimoto’s in remission.
Hashimoto’s and Stress
Looking over the health histories of thousands of people with Hashimoto’s, I‘ve found that an inability to manage stress is often at the core of the condition.
While there are numerous studies that indicate that stress may trigger or worsen an autoimmune disease, because the onset and course of Hashimoto’s can be slow and hard to pinpoint, the effect of stress on the thyroid might be overlooked. Several human and animal studies have demonstrated that both psychological and physiological stress affect the immune system through the nervous and endocrine systems. These immune changes may, in turn, contribute to the development of autoimmunity in genetically predisposed individuals.
When you experience stress, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. It diverts its attention away from healing and digestion, then pumps your body full of adrenaline to prepare it to survive what your body perceives to be a life-threatening event.
Many people cite a traumatic incident in their lives as the precursor to when their Hashimoto’s symptoms began. But chronic stress can also play a role in autoimmune disease, and this type of stress often comes from within, in how we interpret and perceive the world. In speaking with other thyroid patients, it came to my attention that many of us also share some personality traits that include having a Type A personality, fear of failure, perfectionism, negative self-talk, and being very tough on ourselves.
But the good news is that our bodies have an amazing capability to heal. The key is to bring your body back into “rest and digest” mode, where it is actively repairing and healing itself.
Solutions for Reducing Stress
If stress is an inherent part of life, it’s really how we handle our stress that matters. There are many stress-reducing tools that I use in my own daily life to help manage my stress levels, including mindfulness, yoga, journaling, and meditation.
Studies have shown that mindfulness-based stress reducing activities — like yoga, breathwork, and meditation — have a positive impact on not only mood and cognition, but also immunity.
Helpful practices to begin incorporating into your daily life to reduce stress include:
- Meditation – This can improve focus, reduce anxiety, and boost hormones.
- Yoga – Gentle forms of yoga, such as Yin Yoga and Hatha Yoga, have been shown to calm the nervous system and relax the mind.
- Journaling – This can help you focus your thoughts and explore the emotions that might be increasing your stress levels.
- Massage and Acupuncture – These therapies can relieve stress on a physiological level.
- Mindfulness – This means being present in the moment, observing your thoughts and feelings, and not “reacting” to them.
- Manifesting – This means being the creator of your own destiny!
I recently posted about “manifesting” on Instagram. 🙂 I create a vision board every few years of what I want my life to look like… and many readers commented about how they swear on manifesting their future! I agree!
To the left, a photo of my baby boy; to the right, a snapshot of my vision board, circa 2016…
If you don’t have a vision board, I highly recommend that you make one. One of the secrets of making vision boards come true is also making a plan on how you will make things happen.
If becoming healthier is part of what you want to achieve in your life, I recommend working in some of the stress reducing strategies above. While we may all have different root causes and triggers, stress reduction helps all of them.
In future posts, I’ll get into more detail on yoga, journaling, message, acupuncture, and mindfulness, but for now, I’d love to focus a bit more on meditation…
The Benefits of Meditation for Thyroid Health
Meditation can be a particularly powerful tool for improving thyroid health, as studies have shown that it has the ability to boost levels of key hormones and neurotransmitters, including serotonin, the calming neurotransmitter GABA, the adrenal hormone DHEA, growth hormone, and melatonin.
Research has also shown that meditation can help your adrenal glands. We know that stress is a trigger for adrenal fatigue, which can worsen, and, in some cases, trigger hypothyroidism. The practice of meditation can decrease stress levels by significantly lowering elevated cortisol levels.
Other researched benefits of meditation include reduced inflammation, improved immunity, and reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and even cancer.
By spending even just 15 minutes in meditation each day, you have the ability to lower your stress levels, support your thyroid, and boost your mental and physical health without ever leaving your house!
Meditation is something that you can do on your very own, without a doctor’s prescription (though many progressive doctors are now recommending it!). It’s free! There are thousands of free “HOW TO” articles and videos you can find about meditation… But I know that a lot of people have trouble getting started, and continuing, this beneficial habit.
One way to make meditation easier is to use the Muse brain-sensing device, which tracks your brain activity, heart rate, breathing and body movements, while meditating. When you wear this tool as a headband, you’ll get real-time feedback on your brain activity, which will guide your meditation experience and keep you focused!
My friend, Emily Fletcher, developed a specific meditation that you may be interested in trying. It’s called the Ziva Technique, and it’s a powerful trifecta of mindfulness, meditation, and manifesting, designed to decrease stress, lessen anxiety, promote deeper sleep, improve immune function, as well as increase productivity and performance.
After years of teaching thousands of people though her high end meditation courses in NYC, Emily has summarized the keys to her technique in her upcoming book, Stress Less, Accomplish More: Meditation for Extraordinary Performance.
Here’s what one client had to say about her book:
“As a clinical nutritionist, I recommend meditation to all my patients, but I felt like a fraud because I wasn’t able to do it myself. Before meeting Emily, I attempted meditation multiple times but I could not ‘clear my mind’. The more I tried to stop thinking, the more thoughts would come. I felt like a complete failure.
After meeting Emily and learning that thoughts were not the enemy, my relationship with meditation changed overnight! It went from something I dreaded to something I look forward to each day!
From a health perspective, I am sleeping deeper, have less anxiety and feel more productive. The biggest thing that changed is my autoimmune condition. I have Hashimoto’s and after two months of doing Ziva (no changes in diet or supplementation), my Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (antibodies against the thyroid and how Hashimoto’s is typically measured) went down by 200 points!” – Inna T.
In Stress Less, Accomplish More, not only will you learn a daily practice, you’ll also get an intellectual understanding of how stress is keeping you from your full performance capabilities.
What are your favorite resources for meditation?
I look forward to hearing from you and how mindfulness and meditation have worked for you on your journey to reducing stress and healing from Hashimoto’s.
- Mizokami T, Wu Li A, El-Kaissi S, Wall JR. Stress and thyroid autoimmunity. Thyroid. 2004 Dec;14(12):1047-55.
- Stojanovich L, Marisavljevich D. Stress as a trigger of autoimmune disease. Autoimmun Rev. 2008 Jan;7(3):209-13. doi: 10.1016/j.autrev.2007.11.007.
- Moynihan JA, Chapman BP, Klorman R, Krasner MS, Duberstein PR, Brown KW, Talbot NL. Mindfulness-based stress reduction for older adults: effects on executive function, frontal alpha asymmetry and immune function. Neuropsychobiology. 2013;68(1):34-43. doi: 10.1159/000350949.
- Rosenkranz MA, Davidson RJ, MacCoon DG, Sheridan JF, Kalin NH, Lutza A. A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation. Science Direct. 2013 Jan;27:174-184.
- Schneider RH, Grim CE, Rainforth MV, Kotchen T, Nidich SI, Gaylord-King C, et al. Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. 2012;5:750–758