I am in the latter half of the most severe Hashimoto’s flare I have had since being diagnosed in 2008 at age 19 after a bad food allergy reaction at a sushi restaurant. I can count my flares on one hand… the one in 2009 that resulted in severe anemia and gastritis, the one in 2010 after a senior year college spring break trip to Mexico left me with a nasty stomach virus and my first noticeable signs of leaky gut, and the one that started in September 2014 (and that I continue to fight) after a water leak in my apartment led to several weeks of black mold exposure thanks to the management company’s reluctance to fix the issue.
I have been an avid exerciser since age 6 when I started playing soccer. In fact, the only time I have ever gone without daily exercise is during this flare. I have a history of over-exercising (sometimes 2-3 hours a day if I added up my walk, jog, yoga, weights, and/or swimming), but I have come to realize that my body just flat out craves stimulation. After working with children with sensory processing disorder, I now realize that we all have our individual sensory thresholds that need to be met. I NEED to move my body, my food has to be strong in flavor or I don’t register it at all, I LOVE being touched (hugs, massages, tickles, anything), and I also get a huge jolt of satisfaction from pushing my body kinesthetically. I even stand at work and in school because sitting zaps my attention, creativity, and arousal.
If you have ever experienced Hashimoto’s or adrenal fatigue though, you will understand that your body just flat out doesn’t want to move even if your mind is asking it too. It’s in these cases that “Just do it” does not apply. Forcing yourself into physical activity when every cell in your body is saying “No, you crazy $%@^%!” is never a good idea. It can even drive you further into a state of disease. Just as we must eat intuitively, we must exercise intuitively. I wanted to share my experience and tips with maintaining a healthy mind and body during an autoimmune and adrenal flare.
When you are experiencing adrenal fatigue (I was at Stage IV which is considered severe), you may feel like everything you do needs to be done with more effort than previously. You will likely lack the motivation to get yourself to the 5pm gym class after being at the office since 8 am. In fact, there may only be a couple hours in the day that find you have any energy at all! For me, the difference between adrenal fatigue and hypothyroid fatigue is the following. With adrenal fatigue I can only do 1-2 sets of an exercise that I used to be able to do 3-4 sets of with ease. With hypothyroid fatigue, I cannot physically bring my body into motion. I trip over stairs, my feet shuffle when I walk, even showering standing up is laborious.
- Take it easy. High intensity exercise raises cortisol levels. Those with adrenal fatigue should be working on normalizing cortisol through stress reduction activities such as yoga, meditation, and walking. But some of us want a good sweat and a heart-pumping workout, so what’s a gal to do?
- Extra long walks: Make time for several 90 minute walks a week. If you have hills or hiking trails nearby, incorporate those into your walking routine for a cardiovascular benefit.
- Strength training: Short bursts of moderate intensity strength training to maintain muscle mass should be fine, but please listen to your body. Did you used to do 45-minute circuits with barely a break for water? Now you may want to stick with single muscle group movements that help maintain muscle mass but do not get the HR up such as biceps curls, shoulder presses, and triceps dips. I had a 6-week stint of being incapable of even a couple squats and biceps curls. Three months later I am back to 3 1-hour weight training sessions a week that include explosive movements that really get my heart rate up like box jumps, rope slams, and sled pushes.
- Yoga: Rather than joining a gym during my flare, I joined a yoga studio and committed to at least 3 classes a week. Even if my schedule only allowed me to attend the advanced classes, I never pushed myself past a traditional Ashtanga or Vinyasa flow despite what the rest of the class was doing.
The fatigue that those in Hashi’s flares suffer from is no joke. In my opinion (after experiencing both), it is by far more incapacitating than adrenal fatigue. At my worst, I was unable to do 1 (ONE!) body weight squat after a 10-hour sleep! That “gym session” ended in a flood of tears and a deep depression the rest of the weekend. I couldn’t believe what my body was incapable of doing compared to what it used to do!
If your hypothyroidism is at the severity that mine was this winter, I do not suggest incorporating anything higher than mild intensity exercise into your routine. You will be fatiguing yourself even further which will only leave you too exhausted to participate in valued activities such as socialization, cooking, playing with your children, etc. Here are some suggestions for physical activity during a severe flare.
- Short walks: I went for 10-15 minutes walks 2-3 times a day spaced out by several hours. None of these short strolls would leave me so exhausted that I needed to spend the rest of the day on the couch. I also only did my walks on nature trails as they provided a calming environment that encouraged me to take meditation breaks (usually sitting on a log or on bench).
- Guided meditation: This is more of an exercise of the mind, but meditating for 10 minutes a day really helped calm the anxiety I was getting from not being able to move my body like I am used to moving it. I love the Headspace App. After a 10-minute session, I always feel like I’ve just had a wonderful nap.
- Gentle yoga at home: On my worst days, I would be too exhausted to even attend a yoga class at my studio. Instead of forcing myself, I would take my yoga mat to a quiet place in my apartment building and do a series of my favorite stretches like downward dog, pigeon, triangle, and cobra.