The thyroid gland, located at the base of your neck, produces two main types of hormones. One is called thyroxine, or T4, and the other is triiodothyronine, or T3. Combined, these two hormones travel through the bloodstream to every cell in every tissue in your body - heart, brain, muscles, and other organs. These thyroid hormones control your metabolism and essential bodily functions such as heart rate, body temperature, menstrual cycles, and blood pressure.
The pituitary gland and the hypothalamus work together to regulate the level of thyroid hormones produced by the thyroid gland. It’s a delicately balanced system that produces optimal functioning and health.
Like any other system in your body, the endocrine system is sensitive to stress. Not to say all stress is bad. Some stress is positive. It gives us incentive to meet challenges and achieve goals. That kind of stress adds positive value to our lives.
Many of us, however, operate on a steady diet of unhealthy stress that leaves us depleted and our systems on overload. In fact, research in the field of neuroendocrinology links the body’s stress response to nearly two-thirds of all disease.
Too much stress can throw our endocrine system out of balance, including the levels of thyroid hormones produced. In response to stress our bodies sometimes slow the production of thyroid hormones to conserve energy; sometimes stress increases these hormones. When our bodies produce too many thyroid hormones, this can result in hyperthyroidism. Too few thyroid hormones can lead to hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is marked by:
· Rapid heart rate
· Increased sensitivity to heat
· Nervousness, anxiety
· Hand tremors
· High blood pressure
Essentially, your system is in overdrive.
Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, is like being stuck in second gear - everything slows down.
· Tiredness, sluggishness
· Trouble concentrating
· Joint and muscle pain
· Sensitivity to cold
It’s important to learn healthy ways to manage stress for a host of reasons - a sense of well-being, better sleep, less illness. Managing stress in healthy ways gives the entire endocrine system a break, including the thyroid gland.
Meditation is no longer considered the sole province of mystics and spiritual gurus. Coming on the heels many yoga classes (also once considered an “out there” endeavor), millions of people have been introduced to meditation via the final pose of shavasana, or corpse pose. In shavasana, participants lie flat and, basically, chill out after all the balance and stretching poses.
Many people didn’t realize it, but as they lay concentrating on their breath, they were in fact meditating, something that is a boon to both mental and physical health.
Meditation is the simple act of sitting and being in the moment. All you need is a quiet place and the willingness to observe your thoughts. Most styles of meditation include some type of “anchor” to focus your attention. Observing the breath is one of the most common anchors.
Begin by taking a few deep, slow breaths and closing your eyes. You really can do this anywhere-at your desk, on the train, etc. Then, just observe your breath as it enters and exits your body. Within a few seconds, you’ll undoubtedly lose your focus. You’ll think about your chores, your job, your daydreams. You’ll think you’re doing it wrong, and you’ll want to judge yourself for it. No need. All you do is bring your attention back to the breath. That’s it. That’s meditation. Then you do it for a few minutes or ten or twenty. Every time you do it, you interrupt the churning cycle of stress and give yourself a true reprieve.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy. If you need help getting started, check out headspace.com or calm.com, which both offer free trials that include hours of guided meditation that can help you adopt the practice.
With more people working from home, and our interactions shifting to virtual platforms, it’s more important than ever to prioritize our social networks. Isolation and loneliness can have profound effects on our health, with impacts equal to those of obesity and smoking.
The flip side is that seeing your buddies has a protective effect on both physical and mental health. There are incredible health benefits to being around people we love. Positive social connections can lower stress levels, reduce inflammation in the body, increase longevity and lower anxiety and depression. Having positive face-to-face interaction can kickstart a positive spiral of feeling emotionally and physically.
Mom was right. It’s important to express appreciation for the good things in your life. Writing thank-you letters and keeping a gratitude journal can build resilience, reduce the tendency to compare ourselves to others, and improve our relationships. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” can decrease depression and lead to better sleep. Try writing or reciting five things you’re grateful for as part of your bedtime routine and see for yourself if you whether you are able to nod off more quickly.
There are few among us in our modern world who do not experience an overload of stress, but there are simple strategies that can help us manage stress so our bodies can relax and heal some of the damage it causes. Break bread with loved ones, say thank you, or try a meditation class with a friend. Your body and your thyroid will thank you.
Find inspiration for a healthy way to support your thyroid