December and January are some of the coldest and busiest months of the year. When you add in the holidays—with family traditions that often center around food–it can be even more stressful and challenging to maintain balance and good health, especially if you live with hypothyroidism. I thought it would be helpful to share a few tips to help you have “Happy Hypo Holidays!”
If the weather outside is frightful, it’s harder for your thyroid to do one of its key metabolic jobs—maintaining your body’s core temperature. Studies have shown that in some people, the lower the outdoor temperature, the higher the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) level gets. If your hypothyroidism symptoms become more noticeable during cold weather, that’s a good sign that it’s time to check your thyroid levels.
If your thyroid levels aren’t optimal, or your symptoms are more problematic, you may find—as some patients do—that you feel better with a slight increase in dosage of your thyroid medication during the colder months. For instance, this has become such a regular thing for me, that my doctor automatically plans for my slightly higher dose requirement from November through March! Talk to your thyroid doctor to determine the best plan of action for you.
Also, don’t be tempted to delay scheduled blood tests or doctor check-ins, even though it’s the holidays. Remote visits make it easy to see your doctor without taking too much time off from the holiday fun or putting yourself or others at risk of COVID spread.
During colder winter months—when we tend to spend more time indoors—we still need some daily exposure to sunlight. Sunlight exposure (without windows or sunglasses between you and the sun) can help you better metabolize vitamin D levels, which are important for thyroid and immune health. Light exposure also helps your pineal gland with melatonin production, which is important for good sleep, as well as hormonal balance and a strong immune system.
Light exposure can be especially helpful for your mood and fatigue, especially if you have any tendency toward wintertime “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” also known as SAD. I get mild SAD in the winter, so I make it a point to get outside for 10-15 minutes daily in the winter. Whether I bundle up and sit outside with my morning coffee, or take the dog for a walk, or run errands with my car windows open, daily outdoor light exposure definitely helps.
When the weather is really bad, some people find that using an indoor light therapy lamp for a few minutes can also help. A light therapy lamp filters out ultraviolet rays and delivers 10,000 lux of fluorescent light. I have an inexpensive one, and it’s a wonderful mood and energy booster on those grey days!
You may not be having visions of sugarplums, but you probably are having visions of holiday food favorites like Hanukkah jelly doughnuts and potato latkes, heaping bowls of stuffing, Christmas cookies, eggnog, pies, and fruitcakes. (And of course, hot chocolate…with marshmallows!) The holidays are all about indulging in sugary, carbohydrate-rich–and frequently gluten-filled–treats!
When you’re cold or tired, you’re even more likely to reach for the sugar and carbs for energy and comfort. No one is asking you to deny yourself your holiday favorites, but try to enjoy them in moderation.
Overdoing it on sugar and carbs–and, for those who are sensitive, gluten—is not only bad for your waistline, but it increases inflammation, which can contribute to gut imbalance, autoimmunity, fatigue, body aches, and muscle pains.
Try keeping to the 90/10 rule during the holidays and eat healthy 90% of the time, so you can indulge in holiday favorites 10% of the time! Also consider testing out some changes to your favorite recipes–exploring gluten-free flours for baking, or using sugar alternatives like stevia in desserts—to make holiday favorites healthier.
In Paloma Health's Speaker Series on managing your hypothyroidism through the holidays, Paloma Health's Dr. Sean Zager urged his patients to make “sleeping in heavenly peace” a key priority during the busy holiday season—7 hours a night is a good minimum to target. According to Dr. Zager, sleep improves hormonal and immune health, energy, mood, and is important for stress reduction and weight management. Dr. Zager also said that some of his patients find low dose melatonin supplementation especially helpful during the holidays to get restful sleep.
Another of Dr. Zager’s helpful tips is to ensure that you include stress management in your holiday health game plan. While we can’t avoid stress during the holiday season, we can inoculate ourselves against its worst effects by incorporating a stress management practice into our daily life. Whether that’s guided meditation, breathwork, gentle yoga, journaling, prayer, or needlework, setting aside about 10-15 minutes every day goes a long way toward stress-proofing your health through the holidays. My personal tip: if you like to knit or crochet, it’s a wonderful way to de-stress, and you can do it almost anywhere!
The winter holidays are not the time to cut back on physical activity. Try to maintain your usual daily level of exercise or movement. Not only does it help with weight management, but it improves your energy, immune health, and mood.
If you can’t get to the gym, or the weather’s not conducive to your preferred workout approach, grab a smartphone app, or find a streaming workout you can do at home. And remember that any physical activity counts—it doesn’t have to be traditional “exercise.” Sledding with the kids or shoveling out your driveway count!
My new favorite app is Wakeout, which reminds you throughout the day to take short activity breaks, along with instructions on how and what to do, making it easy to incorporate indoor activity whether you’re at home or at work.
On behalf of the entire team at Paloma Health, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season, and look forward to doing everything we can to help you enjoy good health in the coming year!
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