Stress Reduction and Hypothyroidism

How to use mindfulness to relax when your thyroid brings stress.
Stress Reduction and Hypothyroidism

Mindfulness seems to be everywhere these days...mindful eating, mindful working, and mindful relaxation. But what exactly is mindfulness? How can it help you? And how do you know if you are doing it correctly?


What is Mindfulness?


The definition of mindfulness is applying your mind fully to whatever you are doing or whatever is happening to you. This seems like an easy thing to do, after all, doesn’t your mind have to be attentive to accomplish whatever task is at hand? 


However, think about how many times you have been driving and wound up at your destination only to not fully recall how you got there as if your body was on autopilot. Alternatively, think about scrolling through social media, or having a conversation with a friend only to be dwelling on what you are going to say next instead of what he/she is actually saying. 


All of these are good examples of how our minds tend to veer off track. We are prone to losing sight of what we are currently doing and exposing ourselves to thoughts about the past or future that lead to anxiousness. 


Mindful.org states “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us”. A concept that is easy to understand but hard to practice. 


Some would argue that every human already possesses mindfulness, or the ability to be mindful. However, we don’t often access it or use it. Many find that the key to mindfulness is through practice, specifically with the use of meditation.


Meditation can be practiced in short bursts when you are either standing, sitting, moving, or lying down (though not sleeping). Taking short pauses throughout the day to think, reflect, and be aware of your body and feelings is practicing mindfulness. Meditation is not trying to have a clear mind or thinking about thinking. It is “paying attention to where you are and what is going on” and taking a moment to relax. 


How Can Mindfulness Help with Stress?


The relaxation factor is an important characteristic of mindfulness and meditation. Having a chronic illness, such as hypothyroidism, is stressful in and of itself without having to worry about medications, symptoms, and doctors appointments. 


Hypothyroidism has to be managed closely by a physician who can monitor your symptoms, read your blood levels, and make minute changes to your medication. This means ongoing if infrequent, doctors appointments and blood draws. 


Hypothyroidism also comes with a host of unpleasant symptoms. From weight gain, fatigue, brittle hair and nails, muscle weakness, constipation, and more. These symptoms can leave you feeling stressed and depressed. 


Mindfulness may be able to help with the anxiety and stress caused by having a chronic illness. Mindfulness allows you to manage your stress response and approach the situation more calmly. 


If you practice mindfulness enough, it may become commonplace for you to approach things calmly and mindfully. You can take a step back from your thoughts, pause, and evaluate them peacefully instead of immediately reacting. Essentially, you can turn off your fight or flight stress response. 


Mindfulness may also help you to become more aware of your thoughts and your body. By practicing meditation and body awareness you may be able to recognize the onset of your symptoms sooner, allowing you to address and treat them earlier. As you become more aware of your thoughts, you can steer them in a more focused and productive path rather than stressing. 


Exercises in Mindfulness


Thinking About a Stressful Situation


  1. Begin by thinking about a current situation in your life that causes you a moderate amount of anxiety. Not a serene situation but also not a full-blown stressor. 
  2. Hold the situation in your mind and think about the complexity and stressors of the situation. Why is it difficult? Think about the many difficulties associated with it. 
  3. Begin your body and mind awareness. Tune into your physical tensions. Are your shoulders raising, is your heartbeat increasing? Think about your emotions and how the situation causes you to feel. 
  4. Apply mindfulness characteristics to the situation. Accept the situation, explore any curiosities, and apply an attitude of understanding and friendliness. 
  5. Practice placing a hand on the spot where you most strongly feel the emotion such as your chest, or the back of your neck. Your hand should provide a minute amount of pressure that translates to comforting reassurance. 
  6. Begin deep breathing as you let your mindfulness emotions envelop the situation. 
  7. When you are ready, open your eyes and end the session. 

Five Minute Meditation

  1. Find a comfortable position, whether it be sitting, standing, moving or laying down (though this can sometimes lead to falling asleep) and close your eyes if safe to do so. 
  2. Begin by tuning into your body and becoming aware of any tension you are holding. Some people find it helpful to move through each area of the body and address the tension, from their toes to the top of their head. 
  3. Once you feel at ease, recognize your breath. You don’t have to make any exaggerated inhales or noises, just tune into your natural breathing. 
  4. Try to focus on your breath. If your mind wanders recognize that it is doing so and gently redirect it to your breathing. It is very natural for ideas to pop into our heads, don’t chide yourself for any errant thoughts. 
  5. For five minutes try to remain in this relaxed state, focusing on your breathing and being aware of your body and mind. 


Daily mindfulness practice may just bring you the comfort and solace you need to handle your chronic illness.


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