Treating Autoimmune disorders holistically is a vital part of moving from just managing symptoms, and getting through each day into thriving. In this article I am going to make some suggestions to help you thrive if you have an autoimmune disorder.
Autoimmune conditions are on the rise and although there are multiple theories as to why that is the case, there is no widely accepted answer. The reality is that when a person is diagnosed there is not much traditional medicine can to help besides medication to slow the progression of a disease or to manage symptoms. I am not discounting the value of this medication, it is valuable and it is also valuable to look at what else can be done to truly live life to the fullest. If you suffer from an autoimmune disorder than you know how complex managing your symptoms can be.
So, what is an autoimmune condition? Well the simple answer is that it is a disease where the body attacks itself in some way. There are over 100 autoimmune conditions according to the AARD (America Autoimmune Related Disease Association). If you want to take a look at the list to their website. Make sure you come back and keep reading.
Besides the exhaustive list of disorder, most individuals have to see multiple physicians before they are diagnosed. Part of the reason for this is that a lot of the symptoms are non-specific and sometimes a person may require multiple blood tests to confirm a diagnosis.
In my own experience, I was told by doctors that I was “just getting older” and that “I am eating too much” or “I need to exercise more” or “that some pain or fatigue was normal part of aging” or even that “I also have missed and heavy periods when I am under stress”
Despite what I was told, I knew there was something wrong. This was not how I felt before and I knew that there was more to it than getting older. It took me over 3 years to be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and even then, I was just given a prescription and not any other strategies to manage my fatigue, joint pain or my weight.
Eventually I chose to go see a naturopath for more answers and since I have been working with her I feel stronger, healthier and am able to support my body in functioning at the highest possible level for me. In addition to working with her, I have an acupuncturist, have figured out what food works best with my body, what movement is appropriate, ways to manage my stress and much more. These are the things I am sharing with you today. I had to find out all of this information on my own, and I want to shorten the road for you.
One major complaint that individuals with autoimmune disorders have is that their symptoms are often invisible. Which makes it harder to explain the symptoms and/or to receive support. So, it becomes necessary to be your own advocate. Learning to speak up for myself is not something that comes naturally to me, it is a skill I had to learn and continue to develop. If you take anything away from reading this, please learn to be your own advocate!
Does any of my story sound familiar to you? Are you at a loss as to what to do because you just don’t feel like yourself? I want to share some strategies, techniques for you to try.
You may be wondering, why should you listen to me.
I have experience and knowledge that I am called to share with you. Through my journey of managing my own autoimmune disorder, my son’s health issues and my training as a health coach and an NTP (Nutrition Therapy Practitioner). I have found that there are multiple strategies to help manage autoimmune conditions holistically.
A disclaimer, I am not a doctor or medical profession and everything that I am suggesting is based on my training and experience. I am going to encourage you to do your own research, use your intuition and consult your doctor as you see fit.
Strategy #1: Stress Management
You may have experienced that when you are under more stress you just feel worse. Stress aggravates autoimmune disorder symptoms. Whenever I feel more stress than normal, my joints ache, I feel fatigued and overall, I just don’t feel great.
The source of stress may be emotional or physical. So, learning to manage your stress and pay attention to your body’s signals is vital to managing your condition.
Notice I didn’t say when I am under stress, I said when I feel more stress than normal. This distinction is important because a certain amount of stress is healthy and normal, having no stress usually creates boredom and dissatisfaction with life.
You may have been told to manage your stress before and have tried some things in the past that just don’t work for you. Or maybe you may not be sure how to get started.
When you are chronically stressed , you are in fight of flight mode, and your adrenal glands are producing cortisol. During this time period your other bodily functions are temporarily slowed down.
In the ancestral times this was useful because we needed to be able to run away from animals or other predators. Unfortunately, most of our stress today comes from our thoughts and there is no easy way to run away from them. So the strategies I am going to describe here are ways to work with your thoughts and therefore decrease your stress.
- Meditation Take time out to meditate daily. Meditation reduces your stress level and gives your swirling mind a break, even if for a few seconds between the thoughts. Only a few minutes a day is a great start. If you want to learn some meditation strategies click here MEDITATION BLOG
- Journaling There are so many journaling techniques and this is not the place to describe all of them. If you would like to try journaling, one technique that I would suggest is a thought dump. Write out all your thoughts and all the things you are stressed about on paper and then surrender the worry/stress to Divine energy.
- Mind/body exercise: Pilates, yoga or barre are some examples of mind/body exercise. Basically, any type of exercise that requires you to focus on your body and your body’s movements in order to do correctly in mind/body exercise. When you engage in this type of movement it increases body awareness and also allows you to get out of the hamster wheel of swirling thoughts. When you are stressed you are not aware of your body, mind/body exercise gives you something else to focus on during the movement besides your thoughts.
Strategy #2: Sleep and sleep routine
Getting enough rest is vital for a person with an autoimmune disorder. When we sleep our body repairs and restores itself. Many individuals with autoimmune conditions need more sleep or may just need more sleep when symptoms are stronger.
Prioritize your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, then it is important to take a look at your sleep routine and your diet/caffeine intake.
Having a sleep routine prepares our body for sleep. The routine starts way before we even get into bed. Our day before bed impacts our sleep.
- Reduce caffeine or eliminate it after 12 or 1 PM. If you consume caffeine, consider reducing your intake or at least not consuming caffeine after 1 PM. This gives your body enough time to process and eliminate it from your system.
- Screen time. If possible, turn off all screens one hour before bed. If this seems like too big of a stretch, try 30 minutes before bed. Use this time for your sleep routine.
- Create a routine that includes reading and/or journaling. Your routine may include changing for bed, washing your face, brushing your teeth. I am going to encourage you to spend a few minutes reading and/or writing before bed in addition to what you already do to prepare.
Good sleep is essential for humans to function at their best, even more vital for those with an autoimmune disorder
Strategy #3: Connection
Human beings crave connection, we are social beings. Feeling isolated can aggravate stress.
As a person with an autoimmune condition, you will have less energy, so it is really important that you focus on authentic connection and don’t isolate yourself.
If you are feeling alone, which can happen even if you are surrounded by people, then this can lead to filling that void with food/alcohol. Numbing or distracting may help you cope in the short term, but it is not healthy and doesn’t really work.
Notice when you feel disconnected, isolated and alone and reach out to someone.
Do you have a friend you can call that you haven’t spoken to in a while? Do you have a family member? If you can’t think of anyone it is time to find your tribe.
Look for groups of people that meet and have similar interests. Go with the intention of authentic connection and be open to possibilities.
If you are not sure what do to create more connection in your life, start here:
- Ask yourself, “what do I enjoy?” If you are not sure about the answer to this question, then we need to talk. It is time to books a clarity session
- Write down a list of people that you may have met at work or at an event that you might want to reach out to for a walk or coffee/tea.
- Now it’s time to take action. Actually reach out to one or two people for a simple act of connection.
We have to make the time for human connection, although we are more connected with technology, in many ways our society is more isolated. Social media can create a false sense of connection. If you want to read more about this topic, I wrote a blog on what to do when you feel lonely.
Strategy #4: Self-love
I find it fascinating that an autoimmune condition is your body attacking itself. As I write these words the voice in my head tells me I am not enough or that something is wrong. This voice is loud and clear. It has less hold on me because of the work I have done and continue to do, but it is apparent that when you don’t love yourself so many things can happen.
First of all, you look for external validation and love. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come and if it does, it is not always the way we would like it to be. Or even worse, it may just not be enough to quiet that inner critic.
Another possibility is that you may also turn to people pleasing. Which is basically when you will do whatever it takes to make someone else happy, often at the expense of what you want.
When you are a people pleaser then you want everyone to like you. You just don’t feel good when someone is upset or mad at you. When you want everyone to like you then you are often willing to cross your boundaries. Your behavior sends the message that you are not important, and that you are willing to compromise yourself for the satisfaction of others. You become the person that people ask for favors because they know you will say yes.
Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t work, despite your willingness to cross your own boundaries, everyone will still not like you. You may be popular and have a lot of “friends” but as soon as you are not willing to compromise your own needs those so-called friends disappear.
Instead of looking for external validation, ask: How can you love yourself? Instead of attack yourself. On an energetic level an autoimmune disorder is a person attacking themself. It may be difficult to figure out where to start your journey to self-love, that isn’t important, the idea is taking a step in that direction.
Do one thing for yourself that you need and/or want but haven’t done because you don’t think you deserve it. Go ahead, I give you permission.
Taking this one step is a start and yes there is a lot more to developing self-love. It often needs to start with self-acceptance or self-compassion, don’t worry you can do it. If you would like to read more about self-compassion, click here to read more. What Does Self-compassion Look like for a Highly Sensitive person
Strategy #5: Boundaries and Saying No
As you are working to develop self-love, healthy boundaries are essential. Remember your body is attacking itself. When we get sick our body is communicating with us loudly. Before we got sick, there were usually whispers from our body and gentler messages we ignored. How long are you going to keep ignoring what your body is saying to you?
When you overcommit then you are more stressed, and your symptoms will be aggravated. You will feel worse.
Dr. Brene Brown says “a boundary is what’s ok and what’s not ok.” So, what you are willing to do and put up with, and what you are not willing to. I am going to encourage you to actually sit down and write out the boundaries that you would like to set in your life. Then use the magic word “no”.
When someone asks you to do something that crosses your boundary, you don’t have to explain why you can’t do it, or give excuses, just say “no”.
I am going to warn you that people don’t like when a person set’s boundaries, so the some reactions will not be idea. It is not your responsibility to make everyone happy. In fact, you can’t make anyone happy. You can only make yourself happy. Go ahead and set some boundaries.
Strategy #6: More holistic strategies
Dealing with autoimmune disorders naturally wouldn’t be complete without mentioning food and acupuncture.
If you haven’t tried acupuncture to help manage your symptoms, then it is time to try it. I have used it for years, and it has helped me manage my pain, stress and improve my overall well-being.
Our diet is also important. Food sensitives often aggravate symptoms. If you are not sure if you have any sensitivities than I am going to encourage you to start paying attention to how you feel after eating certain foods. Some foods that tend to be more triggering for individuals are gluten, dairy, and soy. Others have trouble with nuts and legumes or the nightshades (eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, paprika and some say Cayenne pepper).
If you aren’t sure what foods trigger or aggravate your symptoms, then you can do an elimination diet. You will eliminate all or part of these foods for 21 days. Then re-introduce each of them, one at a time for three days to see if you have symptoms.
Another option is to can pay attention to your diet and your symptoms, keep a food diary and then eliminate the suspected foods for 21 days and re-introducing those foods.
Food is fuel and working to make sure we are fueling our bodies properly is vital to our health and well-being.
Treating and managing autoimmune conditions holistically is a multi-step process. I am going to encourage you to try one of these strategies and come back to try eventually try them all. My hope is that you become more in tune with your body, feel more empowered and are able to manage your symptoms holistically.
If you would like support in implementing these strategies, apply for a complimentary 30-minute clarity session.