Living With Hypothyroidism

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Whether you're newly diagnosed with hypothyroidism or have been living with an underactive thyroid for years, there are a number of things you can do to feel and live well despite your disease. Some of these proactive strategies include being aware of your mental health, reaching out to loved ones for support, engaging in healthy lifestyle habits, and forming an effective, understanding partnership with your thyroid doctor.

Emotional

Managing a lifelong condition like hypothyroidism is no easy feat, so it's normal to find yourself experiencing a range of emotions like anger, frustration, or sadness. Physical stresses like insufficient sleep, a sedentary lifestyle, or nutritional deficiencies can only add to these feelings. 

Be cognizant of symptoms of depression and anxiety like feeling overwhelmed and irritable, or having trouble sleeping or concentrating.

If you are losing interest in activities you once enjoyed and/or feeling sad most days, be sure to call your doctor.

Trying to sort these feelings out can be tricky, which is why it's sometimes best done with a therapist. Depression and anxiety may coexist with an underactive thyroid. The good news is that your mental health can be treated effectively, often with a combination of talk therapy and medication.

Some activities that may help you reduce your stress:

  • Engaging in mind-body techniques like yoga and tai chi 
  • Trying out mindfulness meditation
  • Adopting healthy sleep habits (for example, getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night)
  • Choosing a form of exercise you enjoy like dancing, gardening, hiking, or swimming
  • Praying or engaging in a form of spiritual practice

Physical

In addition to taking your thyroid medication and staying in touch with your doctor, adopting healthy everyday habits is important for your thyroid health and maintaining a normal weight.

In fact, the issue of weight gain (or difficulty losing weight) in hypothyroidism is a big one. Research shows that, on average, weight only modestly and/or transiently decreases following treatment for hypothyroidism. Yet, weight gain or an inability to lose weight is a major quality of life concern for many people with hypothyroidism. 

Two keys ways to optimize your thyroid health and manage your weight are exercising and eating right.

Exercise

Regular exercise, ideally at least 30 minutes, five times a week is crucial for your overall and thyroid health.

Daily exercise can help raise your metabolism, reduce your fatigue and muscle pain, curb your appetite, lower blood glucose levels, increase your serotonin levels, and lower your cortisol levels. 

To help encourage more movement and activity, consider using a wearable fitness tracker (such as a FitBit) to help you set goals and stay motivated. You may also want to try one of the thousands of fitness programs available on videos or smartphone apps. One favorite among people with hypothyroidism is T-Tapp, an easy-to-do and effective overall fitness program that combines aerobic and muscle-building routines in gentle, short sequences.

If you are embarking on a new exercise regimen, be sure to run it by your doctor to ensure that your plan is a safe one for you.

Eating Right

Nourishing your body with the right foods when you are struggling with thyroid problems can be challenging.

Some steps you can take to begin eating right:

  • Ask your doctor for a referral to a nutritionist, whether you want to lose weight or simply optimize your thyroid health.
  • Moderate your intake of goitrogenic food, like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.
  • Talk with your doctor about getting certain vitamin and mineral levels checked (including ones that may be related to your hypothyroidism, like vitamin D, vitamin B12, and selenium).

Social

It's much easier to stay on track with your thyroid health with the support and encouragement of loved ones.

Of course, whether you decide to tell your loved ones about your diagnosis is completely up to you. But at least getting out and enjoying life with them can be a healthy distraction. Consider going out for coffee or lunch once a month with a cherished friend or scheduling a weekly date night with a partner. 

In addition to reaching out to loved ones, you may consider joining a thyroid support group, either online or within your community. Be open-minded and patient until you find a group that works best for you.

For instance, maybe you are a mother with hypothyroidism who wants to reach out to other women with autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's disease. In this instance, a blog called Autoimmune Mom may be useful. In this easy-to-read online support group, moms share their stories and tips on managing symptoms while raising a family.

Another group called Thyroid Change is a non-profit organization that is more of an advocacy group, with efforts focused on change in how thyroid disease is managed. 

The bottom line here is that by talking with others who empathize and understand your symptoms, you will discover that you are not alone. In addition, you may learn tidbits here and there that help you move forward successfully on your own path to wellness.

Practical

Remain proactive in your quest to learn more and more about hypothyroidism, especially when it comes to the nuances of your specific disease.

With that, it's a good idea to always obtain a copy of your thyroid blood results. This way you can work with your doctor to determine the optimal levels for your own wellness. While some people need to be at the lower end of the normal TSH range (around a TSH of 1.0) to feel well, others feel their best in the middle of the range, or even high-normal levels. Your "sweet spot" is unique to you, and finding that level is a critical part of living well with hypothyroidism.

Additionally, if you are worried that your thyroid health is not being optimized, it's sensible to consider seeing an endocrinologist or seeking out a second opinion from a different endocrinologist.

In the end, finding a compassionate doctor, one who is your partner in the search for solutions and wellness, is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your health.

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