I’ve always lived my life in the fast lane. Constantly working, on-the-go, and never stopping for some much needed R&R. From a young age, my parents told me, “If you relax, you’ll never be successful”. So I pushed myself, and hoped that my type-A personality and need to always be “on” would lead to my personal success… but in reality it had detrimental effects on my health.
The stress from my fast-paced lifestyle was a huge factor in my Hashimoto’s development. Obviously, receiving my autoimmune diagnosis only added more stress to my life, but when I realized the damaging effect it was having on my body, I took a step back and found ways to release my stress. Working in effective life strategies to promote calmness and peace was a major part of my healing journey.
Stress shouldn’t control your life, and it doesn’t have to. Below, I’m explaining how chronic stress can negatively effect you, and sharing some of my favorite stress-relieving strategies so you can get back on top of your health..
On the day-to-day, cortisol gets released slowly from the adrenal gland to help regulate blood sugar, calm inflammation, and maintain proper brain and muscle functioning. In times of stress, however, your body will ramp up its production of the hormone. When there’s a real threat, the effects of elevated cortisol levels can be vital––they help regulate your blood pressure, immune system and digestion in a moment where your body is otherwise preoccupied from its normal functioning.
When a person is chronically stressed, like too many of us are, and their cortisol levels are elevated for a prolonged period of time, it can have some seriously detrimental effects on the body. Persistently elevated cortisol levels can lead to poor immunity, high blood sugar, weight gain, skin issues, and a slew of other problems.
Stress and Autoimmune Diseases
It’s not a coincidence that you always seem to get sick when you have the most on your plate. This is because chronic stress can throw your immune system completely out of whack. And this dysregulation of your immune system can lead to a host of issues, including your immune system attacking cells in your body (AKA causing an autoimmune disorder). I touched on this a bit in a previous post about my autoimmune story, but when it comes to developing an autoimmune disorder, chronic stress can be a serious catalyst. For Hashimoto’s in particular, large amounts of stress can wreak havoc on the thyroid. As stress increases, production of T3 and T4, two vital thyroid hormones, decreases. Chronic stress can also mess with the secretion of thyroid stimulating hormone, which prevents the thyroid from working properly, and can cause hypothyroidism.
How to Keep Stress at Bay
Now I don’t want to scare you by just laying out the bad things stress can do to your body. Stress can be preventable, and here are some ways that you can manage it:
- Taking control of your stress – You should control your stress, not the other way around. It’s easy to let an internal conflict run your mind and your every thought, but by making a conscious effort to change the way you think about stress and stressful situations, you can change your reaction to them. For example, instead of thinking of all the ways something could go wrong in that job interview you have coming up, try thinking of how prepared you are, and what you have to offer. That way, you shift the focus from the stress-inducing uncertainty of the situation to the certain (AKA how awesome you are).
- Finding a positive outlook and raising self-esteem – Part of taking control of your stress includes taking control of your outlook on yourself and the world around you. Studies have shown that those who have a positive attitude and have confidence in themselves, produce less cortisol and have a better mental response to stress. One simple strategy is to repeat a mantra to yourself everyday that is both uplifting and self-encouraging. It can be something as simple as “I am enough” or “I can do anything I set my mind to”. Additionally, expressing gratitude has also been shown to boost positivity, so try keeping a gratitude journal or acknowledge others’ good deeds as often as possible.
- Creating positive social interactions – When you’re stressed out, the tendency is to shut yourself up and focus solely on the thing that’s causing you stress. But research shows that lonely people produce more cortisol. This doesn’t mean that you need to constantly be surrounded by people (introverts rejoice!), but having a good group of friends and people to support you can help reduce stress levels.
- Being mindful – Mindfulness practices, like meditation, can help improve your response to stress. Those who practice mindfulness have been shown to have a more moderate hormonal and inflammatory response to stressful situations. These mindfulness practices can be anything from calming breathing exercises to meditation. Journaling is a great way to be mindful about what’s causing you stress. By taking a few minutes each day to write down the things that are causing you internal conflict you can work through the issues, and consciously acknowledge them and then leave them in the journal, instead of ruminating on them all day.
- Eating well – The way you eat can have a huge impact on stress levels. Processed foods, gluten and sugar can cause inflammation and ramp up the way your body feels stress. High levels of caffeine can worsen feelings of anxiety. That’s why it’s so important to focus on filling your body with nutrient-filled fruits and veggies, whole grains and plant-based proteins that will calm inflammation and keep your body and mind feeling great. And for you coffee addicts, try switching out your daily brew for some matcha or high quality green tea. It will still give you that much needed caffeine kick, without the jittery buzz.