Holidays are supposedly the most wonderful time of the year—except when they aren’t. Even if you don’t have extended family relationships worthy of holiday comedies or conflicted seasonal dramas (for example The Family Stone), travel, parties, entertaining, and loss of normal routine can lead to stress.
If you have thyroid problems, you’re probably keenly aware of how change—even a little less sleep or a little more travel—can quickly lead to feeling rundown and dogged by fatigue that incrementally stacks up until one day, you’re in a full-blown thyroid crash.
Winter is the hardest season on the thyroid because we get no natural vitamin D exposure outdoors (which helps to keep thyroid hormones stable) and viral exposures are high with colds and flus seemingly everywhere. So how can your support thyroid health in the middle of winter, after you’ve been through Christmas and New Year’s?
The thyroid—like many other organs and body systems—responds to stress. The higher your mental or physical stress gets, the more your body goes into “fight or flight” mode, which can result in lower thyroid hormone conversion ( from T4, the inactive type, into T3, the active type) and a higher level of the storage form of thyroid hormone, known as reverse T3. When this happens, you start to get symptoms of low thyroid: fatigue, mood shifts, insomnia, brittle and dry hair that might be falling out, feeling cold, having aches and pains, and being more susceptible to viral infections.
None of that sounds fun! While we can’t entirely escape holiday or post-holiday stress, there are ways we can safeguard our health, especially when it comes to the thyroid.
01. Supplement with vitamin D3.
When we stop spending time in the sun, usually in September for the Northern Hemisphere, our vitamin D levels naturally start to decline. Others might always struggle to have high enough levels, even with sun exposure, due to genes that make it harder to make and absorb the nutrient. Vitamin D is vital for mood balance, immunity, thyroid health, and so much more. When you start to run low, even just a small dip, the symptoms can start to stack up quickly.
Taking a vitamin D3 supplement could be a solution. But here’s the thing: Making sure you receive enough vitamin D is not as simple as just popping a pill. First, you need to make sure that you know your levels. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it gets stored in fat cells in the body. If you get too much of it, your body can become vitamin D toxic because the fat cells can get overloaded.
With water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin B12, any excess gets eliminated via the kidneys. But with fat-soluble nutrients, there’s no easy way to get rid of the extra. Before you take a vitamin D supplement, you need to get your vitamin D levels checked. This can be done by your doctor, or you can even have it done very inexpensively through a lab such as LabCorp or Quest Labs.
Most experts agree that vitamin D levels below 50 can use some supplementation; however, dosage should be recommended by a practitioner. Once you get that recommendation, follow through by taking your daily vitamin D3, at least until April, when you can start getting some vitamin D exposure from the sun again.
02. Find your go-to stress relieving activity.
What eases your mental or physical tension? For some, it’s coloring (personally, I’ve recently discovered the Lake coloring app and I love it—it looks like real crayon markings even though it’s on my iPad screen). For others, it’s yoga or meditation or prayer or watching Friends on Netflix for the five hundredth time (also me). Whatever your method of relieving stress, it’s more important now than ever.
Stress increases inflammation and causes all kinds of other chaos in the body. So when you can do something to give that breath of relief, it supports your overall wellness, but also helps to remind your thyroid (and your brain) that you’re not in fight-or-flight crisis mode.
Self-care is more important during the holidays than any other time, so don’t skimp on it now!
03. Get more sleep.
Speaking of self-care, most of us sleep less during the holiday season. Whether it’s from travel or hosting guests, or from seasonal depression or other complex emotions, somehow sleep gets put on the back burner during the darkest week of the year.
Give yourself the gift of post-holiday rest, and go to bed half an hour earlier, or sleep in half an hour later if you can. Our bodies repair when they’re asleep, and the thyroid needs this vital time of recovery to keep hormone levels nice and steady.
04. Stay hydrated.
Do you fall into the habit of drinking more eggnog and wine and less water, while you are chilling in front of the yuletide log or ringing in the new year? We think of hydration as being a summer thing, to keep us from sweating out all our nutrients, but winter is a dry, cold season, and we need the hydration as much as ever. When we run low on water intake, we can suffer from reduced immunity, and it can make sleep worse, which can in turn affect how well the thyroid can function.
Aim for at least 64 ounces of water daily, but you might need more if you’re in an extra-dry climate (think: lots of static) or if you’re eating or drinking lots of sugar or alcohol.
05. Boost thyroid-friendly nutrients.
The thyroid needs iron, selenium, and zinc to properly make hormones and, not surprisingly, these minerals are also vital for healthy immunity, sleep, and low levels of inflammation.
Eat foods that are rich in these nutrients, like spinach, red meat, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, Brazil nuts, and avocados.
While all of these tips might seem obvious, the winter months are when we tend to let self-care fall to the wayside, and when you have thyroid problems, the results can be more extreme and take more time to bounce back from. Instead of starting the new year off in a hole of fatigue, weighed down by more symptoms than you can count, focusing on thyroid wellness can help to make you feel vibrant and healthy. If you’re going to make new year’s resolutions, resolve to give your thyroid what it needs. After all, without it, you’re likely to have a poor metabolism and no energy to do any of the the other things in life that bring you joy.