Everyone experiences stress sometimes. We can all relate to feeling that rush of energy and anxiety when we’re pressured to meet a deadline, speaking in public, or maybe sitting in rush hour traffic. Stress isn’t always a bad thing. “Healthy” stress can be a catalyst to meet goals and protect us in a life-threatening situation. It’s when we operate on a steady stream of unhealthy stress, that our body systems can become overwhelmed.
Stress is a normal reaction the body has when changes occur, resulting in emotional, mental, and physical responses. When the body is under distress, it affects many biological functions including the brain, heart, immune system, hormones, and thyroid health.
The Adrenal Thyroid Connection
The thyroid works in direct connection with the adrenal glands. An overload of stress can throw the endocrine system out of balance, in turn, also affecting thyroid hormone activity. Thyroid hormones help control cell repair, metabolism, and growth. Too much cortisol can wreak havoc on thyroid hormone production, taxing your thyroid gland and making it work even harder to create the hormones your body needs. Adrenal glands affect nearly every system in the body. When the adrenals are affected, it can cause hypothyroidism symptoms or further aggravate an already existing condition.
The adrenals are small glands located above the kidneys that produce the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is released when you first wake up in the morning, during exercise, or under acute stress. At normal levels, this hormone can help maintain normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and even support muscles in the heart. When the body encounters stress or a perceived threat, the adrenal glands release a surge of epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol into the bloodstream, triggering the body’s natural “fight or flight” response. This response causes our arteries to narrow and the hormone epinephrine to increase the heart rate, making the heart pump faster and harder. Adrenaline is like an unstable accelerant that gets you all revved up with no place to go!
In our modern world, we typically don’t face the same dangers as our ancestors. The problem is that many people are in a constant state of stress in their daily lives. These low level stressors are recognized as “threats”, and the cycle begins again. Overtime, the body can begin to accept this heightened level of stress as the new normal. The most common reasons for adrenal fatigue and dysfunction are intense emotional stress, poor diet, mineral deficiency, chronic inflammation, and an underactive thyroid.
Stress Can Make Symptoms Worse
Heightened cortisol levels can reduce the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens. If this is combined with lifestyle factors such as poor diet, smoking, lack of movement, etc., it makes a recipe for chronic stress in the body. Stress may trigger hypothyroidism, or worsen these conditions.
Hormones (T4) and (T3) play essential roles in immune function and these thyroid hormones can exert responses in various immune cells, e.g., monocytes, macrophages, natural killer cells, and lymphocytes, affecting several processes. The interactions between the endocrine and immune system can contribute to many conditions, including autoimmune diseases.
Stress can be a sneaky culprit for many things. How many of us can relate to being an overeater when we’re feeling a lot of pressure? Weight gain and stress are often closely connected. When thyroid function slows, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) hormone levels fall. The impact of stress can slow down the body’s metabolism. This can lead to unwanted pounds even if you aren’t eating foods high in sugar and fat. Concerns with insulin resistance and managing blood sugar levels often occur alongside thyroid conditions until balance is restored.
Strategies for Stress Management
It’s essential to learn helpful strategies for managing stress. This can pave the way to better sleep, digestion, sense of well-being and most importantly, reduced risk of illness. Check out these everyday strategies to prevent an overload of stress:
Tweak Your Diet
You can imagine what happens to digestion in a cortisol-flooded, stressed-out body. A diet of refined sugars, alcohol, processed foods, gluten and dairy feeds yeast. When yeast toxins are absorbed into the bloodstream, it can lead to a chronic inflammatory state that can cause arthritis, chronic fatigue, and pain. Some yeast toxins can directly block thyroid function and possibly adrenal function as well.
While a balanced diet alone won’t cure hypothyroidism, it can help restore thyroid function and minimize reactions. Your body can only stay healthy and disease-free if you give it the right building blocks. Power the body with nutritious fuel including omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats.
Take Your Magnesium
Minerals are a key factor in maintaining wellness. Those with adrenal fatigue are often deficient in magnesium, among other essential nutrients. Chronic physical or mental stress can deplete magnesium stores in the body, further increasing stress and creating a vicious cycle.
Supplementing with high-quality magnesium can naturally support healthy stress levels. Besides a yeast-free diet and magnesium, the adrenals are supported by unrefined sea salt in your drinking water to provide optimum hydration. If you begin taking large doses of magnesium without replacing sodium, you may feel even worse. Try adding ¼ tsp of sea salt to every liter of drinking water.
Move Your Body
Low thyroid hormone production can leave your muscles weak, painful or stiff. Dust off your health club membership, start walking, swimming, riding a bicycle, dancing, doing tai chi or yoga. You don’t have to overcomplicate this one, anything that makes your body move more is exercise and it’s going to keep you well.
Binge-watching your favorite tv shows or scrolling through Facebook can keep your adrenaline racing through the night, which may cause difficulty falling asleep. Irregular sleep patterns can be a symptom of hypothyroidism, so managing stress is essential for a good night’s rest. Try taking magnesium before bedtime to relax your muscles and calm your mind.
The good thing is, there’s many things we can do to reverse the path of destruction and achieve fulfillment. Implementing targeted lifestyle changes is a powerful way to keep stress levels to a minimum and optimize the diet, making a huge difference in overall thyroid health.