Thyroid Problems and Mental Health

What is the Thyroid and What Does it Do?

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, just in front of the windpipe (trachea). It produces hormones that affect things like your heart rate and body temperature. Having too many of these hormones can cause unpleasant and potentially serious problems that may need treatment.

My Story

A few years ago, I couldn’t have told you what the thyroid is or where it is in the body. I vaguely knew it existed, but that was the full extent of my knowledge. Then, when I hit 40, I became exhausted, and my weight increased. Strangely, a few years earlier, I’d suddenly lost a lot of weight. I had ignored this at the time because I was pleased to find myself at my ideal weight. Looking back, I now realise this was actually the beginning of my thyroid problems.

The tiredness and fatigue persisted, but everyone around me was adamant it was ‘just how 40 feels’. This is one of the main problems with an invisible illness – nobody validates your experience, so it’s easy to downplay its impact and brush it to one side. This also means it can take a long time to realise you are unwell and ultimately get better.

Thyroid Problems Explained

There are two main types of thyroid problems, an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and an underactive thyroid {hypothyroidism). Let’s explore these in more detail:

An overactive thyroid can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

– Nervousness, anxiety and irritability

– Mood swings

– Difficulty sleeping

– Persistent tiredness and weakness

– Sensitivity to heat

– Swelling in your neck from an enlarged thyroid gland (goitre)

– An irregular and/or unusually fast heart rate (palpitations)

– Twitching or trembling

– Weight loss

Unfortunately, symptoms of an underactive thyroid are often similar to those of other conditions. They also tend to develop slowly, so you may not notice them for years. For example, if you are at an age where you’re expecting to experience the menopause, you could attribute your symptoms to this rather than having an underactive thyroid.

You should see your GP and ask to be tested for an underactive thyroid if you have symptoms including:

– Tiredness

– Weight gain

– Depression

– Being sensitive to the cold

– Dry skin and hair

– Muscle aches

Thyroid problems can run in families, so if you know a family member suffers with a thyroid condition it’s even more important to get things checked out.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, the main focus is beginning treatment to regulate the hormone levels usually controlled by the thyroid when it’s functioning normally. As soon as your blood tests are within normal range you are given the all-clear and monitored on an annual basis. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are ‘well’. People with thyroid disorders often have emotional or mental health symptoms as well as physical symptoms, but these tend to be given minimal attention.

Thyroid Problems and Mental Health

Thyroid hormones carry out very important actions in the brain. Any dysfunction in this process can lead to a range of mental health problems. This is true for both overactive and underactive thyroid conditions.

An overactive thyroid essentially ‘speeds up’ your body’s metabolism. This causes your entire sympathetic nervous system to become more active, leading to feelings of nervousness, agitation and anxiety.  In contrast, an underactive thyroid leads to an imbalance of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Although this imbalance can cause feelings of depression, anxiety is another common symptom. Sleep problems are also very common with a thyroid condition. Sleep is one of the foundational pillars of our mental health, so this can have a huge impact.

Getting Help

If you have symptoms of anxiety or low mood, a good practice first rule is to see your GP and have a wide range of blood tests done. Get your thyroid levels checked to rule out a thyroid condition before you begin other types of treatment. Taking a holistic approach to your well-being is also vital, I’ve had constant nutritional support throughout the last few years and it’s not only made me feel more in control and educated me about how to feel my best through diet and supplements. The support has helped me to feel like I am doing something positive, it’s been very useful to have someone point out the ways I do really well and have someone who has the time to talk it through with me.

Anxiety and depression caused by hormonal changes can feel very scary because there’s a sense you should feel fine, but you just don’t. There’s a catastrophising spiral you can go down here, but if we work on showing ourselves compassion, we can focus on meeting our needs rather than trying to push through and ignore what’s going on.

Thankfully, psychological treatments like CBT are just as effective for people with a thyroid condition. You may just need a little extra care and attention because you have a physical condition to deal with alongside your psychological needs. There are a number of trained therapists specialising in working with long-term conditions who can offer more focused treatment and help you adapt to living well with a chronic illness.

What I’ve Learned

Having a thyroid condition has taught me to listen to my body and get to know it really well. I now understand the importance of giving my body what it needs, rather than simply doing what’s considered normal. We are all individuals and it’s vital we embrace this rather than constantly comparing ourselves to others.

This is the main reason I started journaling – I needed to understand my experiences. The more I became aware of each symptom, the more I was able to work on it and improve my health. The key things I found helpful were exercising generally and weight training {which is more beneficial when you have fatigue}.

Receiving nutrition support from Therapy Organics has also been transformative.

I believe a holistic approach is essential as I’ve definitely benefited from my knowledge of psychological health. Understanding my symptoms and getting specialist support in place helped me feel there was scope for improvement. Rather than my poor health running the show, it put me back in control!

Useful Links

Psychological Symptoms and Thyroid Disorders

Nutrition Advice and Support Therapy Organics

Download my 6-Step Guide to Resilience

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at