After I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and was experiencing debilitating panic attacks, dizziness, brain fog, and the overall fear of what this all meant for my future, I knew I had to choose some different approaches to my life.
I have a tendency of being extremely hard on myself, pushing myself to [non-existent] perfection. No doubt this had a massive part to play in the most frightening flare-up I’ve ever had.
Because an autoimmune condition isn’t just physical. Our mindset, stress levels, and emotional health can impact both the illness itself and our experience within it.
So I took stock, made some decisive changes, and found that after just a couple months of consistency in these 10 areas, I stopped having panic attacks. I could feel my overall anxiety waning, my brain fog started clearing up, and I even felt joy to be in my body–something I had never achieved by high-intensity-training myself into the ground.
So whether you’re new to the autoimmune world (welcome, friend!), or you’re just looking for new ways to care for yourself, give some of these an honest try. You could even set a 30-day goal, and note how you feel as each day passes!
1. I quit intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) has a wide range of health benefits, including improved cognition, decreased risk of cancer and diabetes, and it may even help with depression. But for women, it can potentially do more harm than good. It can negatively affect our fertility, blood sugar, and hormone production. There are safer ways to achieve IF as a woman, but since my hormones weren’t in tip top shape already, it seemed that the obvious thing to do was to nix it from my life.
And honestly, other than making me look super fit, doing IF kinda made me feel like garbage. I’d get really dizzy after my fasted morning workouts, I was grumpy as hell until my first afternoon meal, and I had a hard time getting my necessary caloric intake in my allotted eating window, which added to my stress levels.
Returning to a normal eating schedule helped keep my blood sugar balanced and also made me feel much more at ease and happy (read: less hangry!).
2. I stopped doing high intensity interval training
HIIT also has lots of potential fitness benefits. Increasing caloric burn, fat loss, muscle gain, yadda yadda. But again, for those of us with autoimmune conditions, it can increase cortisol and make our symptoms worse.
I loved my HIIT classes, but after I changed my workout program to something less extreme, I noticed I didn’t feel as exhausted the rest of the day after I worked out, and I didn’t have to take as many rest days between workouts since I wasn’t so hard on my body anymore.
3. I said farewell to coffee (and to all caffeine for 90 days)
I used to be a serious coffee addict. I drank 6 shots of espresso every single day for years. I loooved getting my caffeine high before workouts and powering through a class-planning session with an iced americano (or two) by my side.
But guess what? Coffee may not be so great for your neuroendocrine-immune system. Long story short: it stresses you TF out, and having lots of caffeine isn’t ideal for recovering from an autoimmune flare.
So, with a dramatic tear in my eye, I packed away my espresso machine. I decided to give up all caffeine for 3 months, and then I slowly reincorporated green tea (which has immunity health benefits and fewer of the stressful effects that coffee can cause).
I found that I felt so much more emotionally balanced throughout the day by cutting out coffee, and when I reintroduced green tea, I needed far less of it to get an ideal caffeine kick, which saved me money and kept me from overdoing it!
4. I reincorporated treats into my diet
I used to fear sugar and carbs of all kinds. The only ‘dessert’ I’d eat was a single 100% dark chocolate square. I was so strict with my Paleo diet that I would tightly measure the maple syrup I poured onto my grain-free pancakes, and I only allowed myself to eat them once a week (because maple syrup isn’t technically Paleo, and that really fucking mattered for some reason).
Thing is, I’m not gluten-sensitive. I’ve never even been overweight. I was just so hard on myself about eating anything outside of the ‘safe’ Paleo food groups, because I was convinced if I ate any of it, I’d get fat or sick.
…The irony of that situation is not lost on me.
So, I decided to learn to bake. I did it simply for the sheer joy of learning and experimenting and creating something delicious that I could share with family and friends. I’ve made some gluten free cakes, some normal. I’ve made flan and flourless chocolate cake. I’ve made ice cream cake and blondies and brownies and macaroons. And I’ve loved every moment of it.
I realized I wouldn’t DIE if I had an actual dessert once in a while. I adored seeing the happiness on my loved ones’ faces when I’d come over with something new for them to enjoy.
And most importantly, it just felt good to stop being so friggin hard on myself about my nutrition!
Now, I know this may not be an option for you if you’re going through AIP, but it can still be an opportunity to check in and ask how you feel about the foods you may or may not be putting into your body. Is your diet a source of stress for you? And if so, how can you help yourself step out of the fear cycle and encourage yourself to eat for health rather than out of sheer discipline? It’s definitely worth the quick mental check-in!
5. I started sun bathing every day
I got my vitamin levels checked with my autoimmunity bloodwork, and my D level was at a whopping 23. Low vitamin D is often associated with autoimmune conditions, so this didn’t come as a huge surprise. My doctor said ideally, I should get somewhere between 80-90, and that supplements could be helpful, but that there’s nothing like the real thing.
Now, I’m lucky enough to live in Florida where we get mild, sunny, beautiful days from November until May. So I took full opportunity of slapping on my bikini and getting outside every single morning. I sat with a podcast in my ears for about 30 minutes, and I baked my body (without sunscreen!) in the sun’s rays.
This was not only great for my vitamin levels, but it was also so good for my mental state. I started feeling cheerier, I loved my natural bronze look, and it felt really good to have some dedicated me-time outdoors.
If you have access to the sun, I highly recommend taking advantage of it!
6. I looked at myself in the mirror every day
I don’t mean I looked and judged. Or looked and sighed. Or looked and scoffed. I looked and actively appreciated.
I made this a daily morning ritual: I would stand in my birthday suit, look intently at my body, and I would fake appreciation until it became real. If ever I started having a negative thought about how I looked, I would immediately change it to something either neutral or positive.
Having a negative body image impacts so much of our daily lives. It changes how we walk, it changes how we carry ourselves, it changes how we express ourselves, and it can even change how we see or value other people.
The negative thought stream is toxic, toxic, toxic. And I was over it owning my life.
Within two weeks of this daily practice, I started seeing myself completely differently, and I felt happier and more grateful in general. If you’re a person who speaks in ‘energy’ or ‘frequencies’, then you’ll understand this: I started vibrating at a completely new level of high, and it felt AHMAAAAZING.
7. I took stock of my negative thought patterns
Oh, this one was WORK. I used to be constantly overwhelmed with worry, negativity, and fear. It seemed every decision I made, no matter how small, was wrapped in some sort of concern or doubt. I got to the point where I couldn’t even make breakfast without thinking “Uuuugh, maybe I should have fried these eggs instead of hard-boiling them.”
Living in my mind was utterly exhausting. So, I decided to dig deep and rewire my thoughts. This practice, though it took focus, time, and real intention, has been paramount in my healing process.
Life started to ease up when I eased up. I realized it was a waste of energy to be constantly worrying if I’m making the wrong choice, or saying or doing the wrong thing. Instead, by allowing myself to just be, I started to feel more freedom, more creativity, and a willingness to try new things. Developing a more positive mindset really does have a ripple effect on the rest of your life!
8. I looked for areas of my life where I was over-controlling
My over-controlling nature manifested in seriously destructive perfectionism. I had to have everything in my life ‘just so’. But doing this never made me feel good, even when I got things exactly the way I wanted. Nothing ever felt good enough.
I also hated the process of trying and failing at anything. I took every small failure as a sign that I was worthless, rather than it simply being a part of life’s learning process. And god forbid someone see me fuck up–it would send me into a heart-pounding shame spiral that would last for days.
Obviously, this state of existing isn’t ideal for over-stimulated nervous systems, and it was awful for my mental and emotional well-being. I decided I had enough of this tight grip around my life, because I often didn’t feel like I was living at all.
I started seeing a wonderful therapist who helped me unravel where these patterns came from, and with her help, I began to feel more at peace with letting things be messy. Over time, I was able to notice the areas where I gripped a little too hard, and I learned to ease up on myself.
Man, what a difference this has made for me! I feel like I can breathe for the first time in years. And I’ve come to actually appreciate the process of mucking things up, as I now see it as an important part of the creative cycle. I know I can’t progress if I don’t get things wrong, and instead of framing a failure as a part of me that’s ‘bad’, I see it as an exciting opportunity to try again with a new perspective–one that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t fuck up in the first place!
9. I started doing body sensing meditations
Back when I was diagnosed and flaring, I was actually doing meditation twice a day. But meditation isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of practice, and the style I was doing seemed to be making my stress even worse.
I found that by swapping out my previous practice of Vedic meditation and doing deep relaxation techniques like iRest instead, I could fully embrace everything that was happening in my body, and I felt more at peace overall. It helped with my anxiety, my sleep was better, and I felt a stronger connection to the voice inside me that is both spacious and supportive. I honestly feel like this practice gave me my life back.
Meditation is very personal. You sometimes have to try a few different styles to find the one that resonates and accept that what resonates now might change as the seasons of your life evolve. And that’s perfectly okay.
For me, iRest has been the most beneficial practice for my healing journey, and it’s something I’d absolutely recommend trying! Click here for a couple example sessions to get you started. For full sessions, my friend Annie Okerlin has many for free on Soundcloud that I use all the time. She’s one of my favorite people, and her voice is like silk. I love her!
10. I got really picky about who I follow on social media
Whew. Instagram. What a complicated relationship I have with that app.
It is my favorite way to connect with people around the globe. I’ve met some wonderful friends and mentors through IG. But it doesn’t come without potential problems–like addiction, feeding a need for external validation, comparison syndrome, and generally contributing to wasted time and energy.
When I was in the throes of my flare-up, I was also in the middle of launching a digital course that 43 people had signed up for. It was the biggest thing I’d ever put together in my career, but I got so sick I had to cancel the entire thing and refund everyone.
I was devastated, embarrassed, ashamed, and angry at myself for ‘allowing this to happen’ (even though I had no idea how bad things were until it was too late). And after taking care of the loose ends of the course, I took a couple months off from social media to allow my mind and heart to recover.
In my time off, I realized how much I had been comparing myself to other people in my field who I looked up to and who I perceived as better or smarter than me. I had allowed my thoughts to take me to dark places about how I would never be as successful or talented as them. Those thoughts had clouded my ability to think for myself or allow my creativity to flow.
When I finally returned to the Grams, I felt really conflicted about this. These are people I respect so friggin much, and whose work I admire, and whose careers I genuinely want to see flourish. At the same time, though, I didn’t feel I was ready to be faced with their successes when I still felt so vulnerable in my physical health and mental state. I came to terms with the truth that I still had a lot more internal work to do.
So, I did a massive unfollow, and then I muted some accounts and just flicked past others that came up in my feed that I knew would trigger jealousy or self-hatred. I wondered if this meant I was weak. But I decided that no, it absolutely does not. It only means I am protective of my energy and my space, and I’m actively choosing who and what enters my personal bubble.
To allow negativity into your world just because you think you ‘should’ is an act of self-sabotage. If you know what’s good for you and what’s not, then why would you knowingly decide to put your energy into the latter?!
Protecting my energy and looking after my mental and emotional health took full priority over everything else. I still love everyone whose posts I don’t read anymore. I just love them from afar, while I love myself as intimately as I can.