How to Stress Less #1

Why am I falling so awkwardly?

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It’s part of my mission to reclaim my health and heal from Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

What’s that again? Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition; the body creates antibodies that attack the thyroid, causing inflammation and damage. As a result, the body makes decreased amounts of thyroid hormone. My symptoms include extreme fatigue, brain fog, weight gain, vitamin deficiency (anemia), acne, stomach ulcers & other gut/digestive problems, and slight depression. Because my levels were so severe (TSH >150), I was immediately put on medication when I was diagnosed in early April.

I think we’re venturing into uncharted waters… After weeks of searching, I haven’t found many blogs, articles, or much of anything about ultra runners with Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism…and needless to say, none that were authored by ultra runners who’ve reversed Hashi’s. (I DID find some evidence showing that Maffetone is still the way to train to optimize hormonal stress on the thyroid and recovery from running!)

Quick update & life changes: I’m a few weeks into following a low-FODMAP Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet, paying more attention to sleep, and revamping my general habits. Medication (levothyroxine/synthroid) is helping a lot, but if I don’t keep my sleep or blood sugar/diet in check by eating every 2-3 hours, I feel terrible instantaneously. How did I turn into a 97-year-old overnight?! The good news is that it seems Hashimoto’s symptoms can be reversed and antibody levels reduced to “normal” with a little — err, a LOT — of effort. It’s like training for an ultramarathon; hard work and dedication now, pay-off later. Right? Right. I hope.

Of Course Lots of Stress is a Bad Thing!

A key trigger for Hashimoto’s and SO many other health issues is STRESS (I even suspected I was getting out of control when I wrote about that in my New Year’s resolutions). But can’t we all benefit from a little less stress these days??

This is a super simplified description, but here’s a visual of the explanation in Izabella Wentz’s book that shows how stress changes the chemical composition and hormonal balance of your body:

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  1. The body creates hormones called cortisol & DHEA– ideally, they counterbalance each other equally. Cortisol supports critical body/organ functions when we’re in fight-or-flight mode. DHEA counterbalances cortisol’s effects and promotes healing & tissue repair.
  2. Chronic stress disrupts cortisol & DHEA hormone balance: excess cortisol & reduced DHEA.
  3. Prolonged excessive cortisol: impaired liver detoxification, poor wound healing, infertility, central obesity, mood/memory disorders, leaky gut.
  4. Under long-term chronic stress, the body’s cortisol is depleted: inflammation, autoimmunity, fatigue, impaired cognition, depression, and adrenal fatigue can result.

I’ve tried everything over the past few months, and I do feel like my stress levels are down. There’s still a long way to go! In this and in my next post, I’ll share 6 of the stress reduction tips you may not have heard yet.

Start Stressing Less

1. Work with a Wellness Coach… or steal these ideas from mine.

I’m working with a wellness coach provided as a part of my employee benefits. You may have access to one, too! I thought it’d be the same-old, same-old, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn a few tips that were new to me:

  • Consult your to-do list before making any new commitments.
    You have limited time and capacity, so if you haven’t crossed anything off of the list, then you can’t take on any new projects, activities, or responsibilities.
  • On saying no:
    • No is a complete sentence — no explanation is required.
    • Start with small things you can refuse, like telling your restaurant server you don’t need a refill on your glass of water. Use that momentum to say no to larger, more impactful things.
  • Make short-term goals.
    Pick an objective you can accomplish in 4-6 weeks, and keep chipping away. I picked “finish reading a book” and “complete one 30-minute online learning module.” Pssh, easy.

2. Run Less

Ooooh, that one stings.

Exercise is good, but at a certain point, the body can’t restore and repair faster than it’s being broken down or stressed. Therefore, excessive, too-intensive exercise = too much stress. As we now know, stress throws off the body’s hormone balance and could be making thyroid symptoms worse.

In many cases I’ve read about, very active people with hypothyroidism were often unable to lose the weight they’d gained until they stopped exercising for a while and/or switched to less strenuous exercise — just as we do with Maffetone training, more doesn’t always equal more. Even a few days or weeks doing yoga, walking/hiking, or other light exercise. The other day, I decided to ditch the run-every-day mindset and do something really fun… so I tried slacklining!

slackline

I struggled with the idea of running less, but I’m cutting down my running to avoid further damage and learning to do lots of new FUN things. Endurance running, unfortunately, could also increase cortisol levels and possibly lead to adrenal stress/fatigue or burnout. From Chris Kesser, who’s well-known and respected in the functional medicine community:

Another major effect that extreme exercise has on our bodies is an immediate increase in cortisol, the hormone that is released when the body is under stress. The stress caused by intense, excessive exercise can negatively affect the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, possibly causing conditions such as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is known to cause depression, weight gain, and digestive disfunction along with a variety of other symptoms. As we know, high stress in general can cause symptoms of hypothyroidism, and the stress caused by excessive, intense exercise is no exception.

If that’s not convincing enough, cortisol is largely responsible for belly fat.

I’ve always trained “low and slow,” but I still cut my mileage by about 50-75%. And since chronic stress-excess cortisol could happen, NO RACING. It’s kind of a bummer, but I’m focusing on being grateful that I can run (since 2 months ago, I couldn’t even run a single mile). It’s like taking care of an injury: time off now means that I’ll be able to get back to training and racing later… and THAT definitely beats irreversible thyroid dysfunction for life.

 

3. Make Some Hard Decisions About How You Spend Your Time

How great would it be to just show up to activities once in a while, rather than be involved in the planning and execution? I’d forgotten what that was like!

There are quite a few things I’m doing/planning on doing that add to my overall stress level. I’m fortunate that I can outsource some of those chores and projects by hiring an expert or asking for help.

I love being active in the running community, work projects, and lots of other things. But I don’t need to be responsible for putting it all together all of the time, so I’ve been holding back on being the first to raise my hand until I feel more confident in my health. On top of that, I’m working to off-load some of my other time commitments and responsibilities or stepped away from them altogether.

So, always stop to ask why, and what it’s all for.

  • Is this activity/project/whatever getting me closer to my goal? Will it make me healthier? (What’s in it for me, and is it worth it?)
  • Will it add or reduce my level of stress?
  • Is it necessary that I’m the one responsible for this chore/activity/project/whatever? (Could someone else do it?)
  • Is it necessary that this is done right now?
  • Do I want to do this, or do I have to do this? Do I feel like doing this?
And don’t forget — “No” is an acceptable enough answer. :)

There you have it – my first three tips.

What are some of your best tips for reducing stress?

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