An underactive thyroid -- you may hear it called hypothyroidism -- can make you feel lousy. But your day-to-day habits can make a big difference in how you feel. That means more than just taking your medicine as prescribed.
“Lifestyle measures can improve the way your immune system functions. And that can help ease the symptoms of hypothyroidism,” says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Take these simple, everyday steps to start feeling more like yourself.
Get Smart About Sleep
You might feel run down, even if you’re taking medication. Yet all too often, “people with hypothyroidism don’t get enough sleep, or the sleep they’re getting isn’t good quality,” Hatipoglu says.
To ensure your body has a chance to rest and recover:
Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night. That’s actual sleep, not just time spent in bed. Hit the hay and wake up at roughly the same times most days.
“A regular sleep schedule makes it easier to fall and stay asleep,” says Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.
Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, and cool. Keep pets out of your bed, and if possible, out of your room. That way, they won’t disrupt your sleep.
Try a wind-down routine. At least 30 minutes before bed, do something relaxing. Harris suggests a cup of herbal tea, a shower, or reading in a low-lit room.
If all else fails, talk with your doctor. If you snore, can’t fall or stay asleep, or are worn out even if you do get 8 hours of shut-eye, you may have a sleep disorder. Your doctor might send you to a sleep specialist.
Look for Ways to Relax
“Stress has a negative impact on the immune system. So if you’re really stressed, it can make the symptoms of hypothyroidism worse,” Hatipoglu says.
Even if your hypothyroidism is well controlled, high stress causes your body to release adrenaline and cortisol. Those can make you feel anxious and “fried.”
To manage your mood:
Do something relaxing every day for at least 10 minutes. If you don’t already have a go-to de-stressor, “try different things until you figure out what gives you peace,” Hatipoglu says. You could call a friend, paint, write, read, or spend time outdoors.
Look for ways to be mindful. That’s the ability to identify your physical and emotional state without judging it. And it can lower your stress. It also eases anxiety and depression in people with medical conditions like hypothyroidism.
Tell someone if you’re feeling blue. Stress and depression often go hand-in-hand. And hypothyroidism can bring you down, too. But medication, talk therapy, and other strategies are proven to help.
Move More Often
Exercise can help with many side effects of hypothyroidism, including bad mood, low energy, and weight gain.
“Physical activity increases feel-good brain chemicals and other chemicals and hormones that improve energy and mood. It helps you lose weight and keep it off, too, and can improve the quality of your sleep,” says Terry Davies, MD, at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
Exercise can even have a positive effect on the immune system, says Hatipoglu. Regular moderate activity can help boost in the cells that attack germs in your body.
To make it a habit:
Ease in. An underactive thyroid can slow your heart rate, so be careful not to go too hard or do too much right away. Start at a low intensity, and do 10 to 15 minutes most days for a week or two. Then slowly build up to 30 minutes a day (it doesn’t have to be all at once) most days of the week.
Remember that all movement counts. “You don’t have to go to a gym,” Hatipoglu says. “Walk as much as you can. Take the stairs. Do housework. Any form of physical activity can make a difference.”
Keep at it. Even 10 to 20 minutes of exercise a few times a week is enough to boost your energy and mood in people with health conditions like hypothyroidism.
Tweak Your Diet
The way you eat can improve your health and may make hypothyroidism easier to manage, too.
To make the most of every meal:
Eat a Mediterranean-style diet. Load up on rich vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats (like olive oil and nuts). Ease off on sugar and saturated fat, too. “This style diet can improve your energy and help you achieve a healthy weight,” Hatipoglu says.
Steer clear of “alternative” thyroid medications. These are often called “natural thyroid preparations.” But their “natural” label doesn’t make them safe.
“They tend to contain the wrong amount of hormones from sources that aren’t proven to be safe. They can cause serious side effects, like heart issues and anxiety,” Davies says.