The thyroid has a significant connection to stress response as it regulates homeostasis or balance in the body. Stress and anxiety can truly put the brakes on your primary metabolic gland, and in a time of fight or flight mode, the sympathetic nervous system response is to reduce your body’s caloric burn so you can survive in a time of need. However, your stressors are often not so survival based, as they more often occur in a sedentary state such as rush hour traffic, an argument with a family member, meeting a deadline at work, or taking a school exam.
Understanding the role of stress on your thyroid is a key to support your body’s metabolism from the root cause and optimize your body’s thermostat or metabolic gas tank. Beyond driving caloric burn, the thyroid has many influences on your internal system from mood stability, to energy, sleep, digestive function, and more.
What is the thyroid gland and how does it work?
That tiny butterfly shaped gland in the front of your neck is the regulating center for your body playing a role in your metabolic function, weight, body temperature, mood, sleep, energy, cognitive function, anxiety, bowel regularity, bone and joint aches, dry skin, hair loss, brittle nails, and more. When there’s too much of the thyroid hormone, this is known as hyperthyroidism, and too little thyroid hormone is known as hypothyroidism. A thyroid imbalance is typically seen more often in women than in men.
The thyroid gland is regulated by the hypothalamus and stimulated by the pituitary gland--both primary stress responders in the brain. As the thyroid goes into production mode, it uses a series of chemical reactions by using iodine as a building component of thyroid hormone T1, T2, T3, and T4. The primary functional output from the thyroid is in the inactive T4 form which is converted as needed into the active form of the hormone T3.
Your thyroid is impacted significantly by stress as the thyroid gland competes with the adrenal glands in times of significant stress. In survival mode, the body stimulates the adrenals for output of cortisol and adrenaline as it puts the brakes on the thyroid gland to prevent metabolic burn and preserve fuel reserves in times of stress. Unfortunately, this shift slows down not only metabolism in the sense of weight gain and lack of fat burn, but it also interferes with the body’s ability to regulate hormones, cholesterol, and metabolic pathways in the liver including detoxification.
Stress can be both physically and mentally impactful on the body, which can drain or pump the brakes on the thyroid gland. Since stress can be self-induced, it’s oftentimes overlooked as it can be something desired or intentional yet still driving the thyroid to be overworked.
Ways to defend against stress to your thyroid gland
- Go gluten-free or even better, reduce grain consumption
- Consider a liver detoxification and candida cleanse
- Get 7+ hours of sleep
- Focus on resistance training with cadence, gentle movement therapy, stretching as primary exercise, reduce intensity and high stress activities.
- Work on mindfulness and meditation, reduce rumination and racing thoughts with action plans versus mulling over situations.
- Support your system with strategic supplementation.
- Eat an antioxidant-rich, anti-inflammatory diet.
Think of food as your medicine first, and take inventory on how much time you’re carving out for stress-free activities and relaxation. Every instant your body goes into a fight or flight mode, that very same moment puts pressure on the thyroid gland to respond in an unfavorable way.
It’s no surprise that every person deals with stress on a daily basis. No matter the challenge, stress levels are sometimes out of control, and that can be bad news for your thyroid—a delicate gland that can sense when your body is out of whack.