Overwhelmed? Headaches and knotty shoulders can be a way the body signals an overload of physical, mental or emotional stress. However, for those with Hashimoto’s and other types of thyroid issues, stress doesn’t just cause discomfort. It impacts function. Thyroid health is significantly linked to stress.
It’s worth knowing why stress is such a big deal when it comes to thyroid health. Also, since stress is unavoidable, it’s important to know how to sidestep its effects. There are 5 ways to compassionately care for your thyroid and relieve stress during intense times.
Stress Puts the Brakes on Thyroid Function
The thyroid and adrenal glands work closely together. Periods of prolonged stress can mean less thyroid hormone is available in the body, leading to less energy, more brain fog and an increase in hypothyroid symptoms.
First, stress triggers a fight-or-flight reaction. Then, the brain signals the adrenals to produce stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones are very helpful when you’re wanting to run away from a wild animal. However, when your stressors are chronic, there can be imbalance in the body. Consequently, thyroid hormone production, digestion and immune response can be slowed until the stress is resolved.
How Stress Impacts the Thyroid
- Decreases thyroid hormone production
The hypothalamus and pituitary slow down thyroid hormone production in response to increases in cortisol.
- Reduces conversion of T4 to T3
High stress causes the storage form of thyroid hormone to be turned into reverse T3 (rT3) instead of the active T3 form.
- Weakens immune system function
Stress suppresses the immune system. Here, latent viral infections can now become problematic and autoimmune issues may emerge. (1) This causes a cycle of inflammation and continued stress on the body.
- Causes thyroid hormone resistance
Stress releases inflammatory cytokines making thyroid receptors less responsive to thyroid hormone.
- Decreases unbound thyroid
Elevations in cortisol over time can cause estrogen accumulation. This can mean an uptick in TBG, thyroid binding globulin. TBG binds to thyroid hormone and decreases the availability of free T3.
- Causes Intestinal Permeability
Cortisol weakens the protective barrier in the gut and can lead to intestinal permeability.
Stress Comes in Many Forms
Sometimes sources of stress are out of our control. Other times, we don’t even realize we’re contributing to our stress load.
Psychological stress: relationships, job, deadline, test, family dynamics, societal tension, past traumatic experiences, pandemic, finances
When we experience chronic stress, the adrenals work overtime, producing more and more cortisol while negatively affecting thyroid function and potentially leading to HPA axis dysfunction, also known as adrenal fatigue. Weakened adrenals can mean thyroid medication could temporarily cause an increase in symptoms such as increased heart rate and a feeling of being in overdrive. The adrenals can be supported with nutrient supplementation and lifestyle stress reduction support.
5 Ways to Compassionately Care for Your Thyroid
1. Eat Well
Foods High in Antioxidants, B Vitamins and Minerals
Did you know there are specific compounds in foods that can help your thyroid function? In addition to following a low-inflammatory diet and skipping out on lots of foods high in sugar, consider the value of foods rich in antioxidants. Foods high in antioxidants and B vitamins can help guard against the effects of oxidative damage of stress. Iodine, selenium, magnesium and zinc are minerals needed to make thyroid hormone and can be found in a variety of everyday real foods.
Eating with an element of mindfulness involves knowing what’s going on in and around you while eating. Mindful eating may help reduce the stress hormone cortisol and have a positive effect on HPA-axis dysfunction, our relationship to food and overall weight. (2)
2. Ask about Supplements and Vitamin Support
Supplements that support the thyroid and adrenals such as minerals and vitamins may be considered. Probiotics can support the thyroid and decrease symptoms of stress. (3) Adaptagens, glutathione–known as the master antioxidant–and magnesium may support the thyroid during times of stress. Since stress can cause leaky gut and leaky gut is a physical stressor on the body, strategic supplementation that addresses intestinal permeability may be helpful.
A quick and effective way for the body to absorb supportive nutrients are through vitamin injections and IV’s. Our Stress Shot contains Methyl Cobalamin B12 , B-Complex and Magnesium Sulfate. Magnesium can improve brain function and support mood. The Calm Shot is a nutrient blend featuring GABA that can help migraines, anxiety, and muscle tension.
3. Consider Gentle Movement
Planning for sufficient recovery time before intense workouts can decrease our stress load. Resistance and restorative movement practices like yoga and light stretching may be good go-to’s during intense times of stress because of their more gentle impact and the positive effects on the body. (4, 5)
4. Strategically Plan for Health
SMART goals and putting to-do list items on the calendar can cut down on mental chatter about pending projects and unmet objectives. Goals and boundaries around health-promoting behaviors such as a bedtime routine that promotes restful sleep or a plan to incorporate a midday mindfulness break may help. (6)
5. Try a Relaxation Exercise
Breathing, Muscle Relaxation and HRV
Slow and deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic or belly breathing may switch someone from a stressed out sympathetic state to a more relaxed state. (7) Many apps allow users to set a timer for deep breathing with or without guided meditation, including Calm, Stop Think Breathe, and Insight Timer.
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing different muscles is another option for relaxation. Others may find simply thinking about a place or person that brings them a sense of safety can be soothing to the body and mind.
One way to measure the flexibility of the body to move out of fight-flight and back into a state of rest and repair is through Heart Rate Variability (HRV). HeartMath Inner Balance app and sensor allows users to track their heart rate and breath.
Compassionate Response to Stress
However, a new app or fancy equipment isn’t necessary to invite a sense of calm. Consider how approaching a stressful situation from a place of compassion instead of criticalness may be helpful. (8) The RAIN technique—developed by Dr. Tara Brach, PhD —is one way to bring compassion to stress and suffering (9):
Recognize: What emotions or sensations are present in the body? Is it a rush of anxiety, anger tightening the shoulders or a critical inner dialogue?
Allow: Simply let the feelings, emotions or sensations be there without rushing to fix or control them.
Investigate: Invite an element of curiosity and care. What does this part of me need right now?
Nurture: When we notice our discomfort and suffering, we are practicing self-compassion. Havening techniques such as crossing arms in a self-hug and gently moving hands up and down or placing hands over the heart can decrease the stress response and bring a sense of nurture and increase the feel-good hormone oxytocin. (10)
How will you relieve stress and support your thyroid?
Eliminating stress entirely isn’t realistic. Thankfully, there are many ways to support the thyroid and adrenals through stress management. The tools and techniques that work best for stress relief varies from person to person. Finding what works best for you can mean a reduction in the physical effects of chronic stress on your body and mind.