Mindfulness and stress reduction techniques have been shown to have numerous health benefits. Many of the benefits can specifically address your thyroid and related symptoms.
For example, one of the most persistent problems for people with thyroid disease is weight gain or difficulty losing weight. New research published in July 2017 in the journal Obesity showed that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) approaches can significantly lower fasting glucose (blood sugar) levels.
The research, conducted at Penn State University, found that the reductions in blood sugar levels came after only eight weeks of mindfulness training, and eight weeks of home practice of mindfulness approaches.
Another research study found that mindfulness practice can reduce insulin resistance. Chronically elevated blood sugar levels along with insulin resistance are associated with weight gain and difficulty losing weight, as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
The research about the benefits of mindfulness for blood sugar and insulin resistance is the latest in a growing body of evidence demonstrating the many health benefits of mindfulness practices for thyroid patients, and others with health challenges and chronic illnesses. For example:
- Most people with thyroid disease in the United States have an autoimmune disease. Mindfulness practice has been shown to enhance immunity.
- A characteristic of autoimmune thyroid disease is inflammation in the thyroid and in other areas of the body — such as the joints and muscles, and hair follicles — where it causes symptoms such as pain and hair loss. Mindfulness practice can reduce inflammation and specifically, levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation.
- Thyroid disease and autoimmunity can lower your resistance to infection. Mindfulness practice increases the number of natural killer cells — important immune cells that help fight infection.
- Depression, anxiety, and difficulty coping with stress are well-known thyroid symptoms. Mindfulness practice can reduce your overall stress level and help alleviate depression and anxiety.
- Thyroid disease can increase your risk of heart disease. Mindfulness practice can reduce blood pressure, which can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.
What is mindfulness-based stress reduction?
Traditionally, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) refers to a combination of meditation, body awareness, and yoga included in a program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine, and founder of MBSR. But you don’t need a formal MBSR program to reap the benefits of mindfulness techniques.
And, the best part of incorporating mindfulness practices into your overall approach to wellness is that you don’t need to blood tests or doctor’s visits to get started. You just need an open mind and the time and willingness to learn and practice some new techniques.
In-person formal MBSR courses are offered at many hospitals, universities, and medical centers around the country. You can also take a free, full-length online MBSR course.
Meditation and guided meditation
There are dozens of different types of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation ™, Buddhist meditation, mindfulness meditation, and guided meditation, among other approaches. Learn about different types of meditation, or sample some approaches online, including:
- Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 20-minute “Breathscape And Bodyscape” MBSR guided meditation
- Buddhist Guided Meditation with Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Thyroid-specific guided meditation
Of particular interest to people with thyroid disease is Demo DiMartile’s Thyroid Meditation CD and MP3. This guided meditation was created specifically to help people with thyroid disease achieve the relaxation response, reduce stress, and practice mindfulness. You can try a 6-minute sample of this meditation online.
Breathwork refers to the use of the breath to direct and improve energy, and to help resolve physical and emotional imbalances. Breathwork is integral to practices including yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. There are many different types of breathwork, including Integrative Breathwork, Conscious Connected Breathing, and others. Two of the most popular types of breathwork include:
- Pranayama — a practice that is part of yoga that involves altering breathing techniques to produce specific physical or mental results. You can find a series of instructional pranayama videos online.
- Transformational Breathwork — a specific breathwork technique that can help enhance energy and reduce stress. One popular Transformational Breathwork technique is the featured online in this “100 Breaths of Joy” morning video.
The gentler types of yoga are considered most conducive to mindfulness and the relaxation response. These include Hatha Yoga, Yin Yoga, and Restorative Yoga. One mindfulness-based yoga practice is “yoga sleep,” known as yoga nidra. You can try yoga nidra in this online video.
Tai chi was originally a martial art and is now a slow, gentle practice that includes a series of movements designed to create mindfulness while enhancing energy. BodyWisdom has a free 90-minute beginner introductory class online.
How often should you practice mindfulness?
There is no fixed formula of how much mindfulness practice you need to achieve results, but a good guideline is to aim for a minimum of at least 15 minutes per day of a mindfulness activity.
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Mary Shomon is a thyroid disease, hormonal and autoimmune health writer, and patient advocate. For two decades, Mary has been a leading force advocating for more effective, patient-centered thyroid and hormonal health care. Mary is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Thyroid Diet Revolution,” “Your Healthy Pregnancy with Thyroid Disease,” “Living Well With Hypothyroidism,” and 10 other books on thyroid disease and integrative health. She co-stars in two PBS health specials, “Healthy Hormones,” and “Vibrant for Life.” Follow her on Twitter at @thyroidmary or at her Facebook communities: ThyroidSupport and ThyroidDiet.