3 weeks vacation.

Not bad.

That’s the advice talk show host Wendy Williams got from her doctor when she was just diagnosed with Graves’ disease. She shared this yesterday.

My first thought was “great advice”. That gives her time for thorough research of her condition. And the opportunity to do some serious de-stressing. Because stress usually plays a big role in Graves’ disease. In most autoimmune diseases actually. More about that below.

Yet, Wendy didn’t seem too thrilled about her doctor’s advice. She hasn’t missed a day of work in her life. And thinks she’ll be back in 2 instead of 3 weeks.

It seems the idea of taking vacation is in and of itself stressful for her. And I get it. What´ll happen to her show? Will viewers switch to other entertainment? What will the general public think of her?

I read several angry comments from people with Graves’ disease. Accusing her of being privileged. “The rich can take some vacation whereas I need to go back to work the next day.” “Just take your meds and deal with it.”

Not really comforting remarks.

So, triggered by Wendy’s story, I think it’s time for a post on reducing stress.

Things you can do to relieve stress while taking (forced) vacation. But preferably also on a daily basis throughout the year.

Because incorporating stress-reducing activities in your daily routine sets you up for long-lasting change in how you’re coping with stress. And this will affect how you feel.

First, a little background about the relationship between stress and Graves’ disease.

Stress and Graves’ disease

Stress is associated with Graves’ disease. The first reported research on the link between stress and Graves’ disease dates back to 1825. It describes how a woman developed Graves’ disease symptoms shortly after her wheelchair fell down a set of stairs.

A century later, in 1927, Dr. Israel Bram further validated this connection between stress and hyperthyroid symptoms. He reviewed over 3,000 cases of hyperthyroidism. And discovered that in 85% of them, the person had experienced significant stress before the onset of their hyperthyroidism.

Stress included life-threatening events like fires, shipwrecks, near escapes from accidents, so basically traumatic stress. Research also shows a connection between early childhood traumatic stress caused by physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and more to an increased risk of autoimmune disease later in life.

You get the point, right? Stress plays a major role in Graves’ disease. You simply can’t ignore it. It needs to be addressed.

But that’s easier said than done. Reducing stress seems to be one of the hardest things to accomplish.

Fortunately, there are many things you can do on a daily basis to help you strongly reduce your (perceived) stress. Or help you manage stress better.

Here are 12 of them:

  1. Nourish yourself with good food. By good food I mean real food. Avoid processed foods and instead choose nutrient dense vegetables, meats, nuts, seeds, fruits, and fish (as always watch out for (high) iodine content). And drink plenty of clean filtered water.
  2. Show yourself compassion. Your health at this point is likely far from ideal. Yet, your body is still fighting for you. I believe that symptoms aren’t meant to annoy you. They’re meant to get a message across. That you need to take better care of yourself. Thinking negatively about yourself or beating yourself up will likely only result in sabotaging your body’s efforts. Instead, work on being a little (or a lot!) kinder to yourself. I know this can be a really hard task for the perfectionists among us.
  3. Ask for help when you need it. This is a big one. Especially for us women. I’m also guilty of thinking I can manage and do everything myself. And maybe you can, but your health will suffer. And wouldn’t it be great to have more time for the things you actually love doing?
  4. Spend time outside on a daily basis (rain or shine!). Spend at least 30 minutes per day outside. It’s most beneficial to do this first thing in the morning to support hormonal balance. Or think of taking a walk around lunch time.
  5. Do light physical activity. This may be very light physical activity such as taking a walk. If you have Graves’ disease it’s likely not the time to do anything more. I remember I couldn’t even finish an easy yoga class. Listen carefully to your body.
  6. Spend more time with loved ones like family and friends. Spending time with people that lift you up significantly reduce your stress levels. Don’t forget to also avoid energy-draining people as much as possible. Maybe it’s time to reflect on your friendships and the people you spend time with. Negativity is killing for your health.
  7. Take time for a relaxing bath or a great book. A perfect bath time is an hour or 30 minutes before bed. This will also help you get in the mood for bed. And greatly improve your chances of a good night sleep.
  8. Indulge yourself by having a relaxing massage. Need I say more?
  9. Practice deep breathing techniques. Did you know you can trick your mind to release stress just by taking a couple of deep breaths? This is an easy tool you can use everywhere: in traffic, in the office, in the supermarket when your kid has another tantrum, and so on.
  10. Start a meditation practice or (kundalini) yoga. This doesn’t need to take more than ten minutes per day and can have huge effects on your health. It took me a while to incorporate a morning meditation and yoga practice, but so worth it. I’m always amazed how some brief exercises can quickly shift your mood and energy. The internet is a great resource in finding short exercises you can give a try. Or try a meditation app.
  11. Learn to say no more often. Another big one that involves some courage. But over time it gets easier. Know your limits and really put yourself and therefore also your health first.
  12. Watch a hilarious movie. Laughing, I believe, will always remain one of the best ways to relieve stress.

There you have it. 12 easy ways to help you (and Wendy) better cope with stress. Which may in turn help you improve your symptoms.

Keep in mind, you don’t become a stress management master overnight. So show yourself some compassion and practice, practice, practice.