The Effects of How We Talk About Our Thyroid Disease and Health

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How we talk to ourselves and others about our thyroid health can have an impact. istockphoto

I know that some patients will think that it doesn't really matter what we say about our thyroid disease, or ourselves. We have a health problem, it can be a difficult and frustrating challenge, and there are times when we feel a need to express ourselves, in whatever way we want to, about our situations.

I think we should be careful about how and what we say about our health. The way that we talk about our thyroid disease and health is important because it can have an effect on our mood, attitude, and even our health and healing.

For example, I often hear patients say "I'm a hypo," or I'm a Hashi's" -- and to me, that kind of phrasing may mean that we are too closely identifying with the disease. So much so, that we now identify ourselves as the disease. Or "I'm a hyperthyroidism sufferer," or "I'm battling thyroid cancer." This sets us up to view ourselves as victims or to consider ourselves in a conflict, which adds to the perception of stress.

I've also heard people catastrophize or exaggerate, saying things like "this Graves' is going to kill me," Even if saying that your thyroid condition is going to "kill" you is rhetorical, it demonstrates an underlying sense of defeat.

Sometimes, patients use black and white, all-or-nothing language: "I will never lose a pound, even if I live on lettuce!" Or "I'm always going to feel tired, and nothing I do will help." These kinds of statements suggest that you've given up hope entirely.

The Benefits of More Positive Thinking and Self-Talk

In her article, "Benefits of Positive Thinking," About.com psychology expert Kendra Cherry identifies five health benefits, including:

  • Positive thinkers cope better with stress
  • Optimism can improve immunity
  • Positive thinking is good for overall well-being
  • Positive thinking makes you more resilient

Research reported on at MayoClinic.org outlined the health benefits of positive thinking, and avoidance of negative self-talk, including:

  • An increased lifespan
  • Reduced rates of depression
  • Reduced sense of distress
  • Greater resistance to getting a cold
  • Improved psychological and physical wellbeing
  • A reduced risk of death from heart disease
  • Better coping skills during periods of difficulty or stress

How we talk to ourselves, and how we view our challenges, do have an impact. About.com's stress management expert, Elizabeth Scott, in her article Attitude, Self Talk and Stress says "the types of words we use can alter expectations and even our perceptions of reality." Scott goes on to say that "If you say 'I can't handle this,' you more likely can't. This is because your subconscious mind tends to believe the thoughts it hears...When you tell yourself you can't handle something (or some other self-limiting thought), you tend to stop looking for solutions."

Ways to Have a More Positive Outlook, and Positive Self-Talk

1. The Golden Rule of Self-Talk

One of the best ways to generally start to have a more positive outlook is to practice positive self-talk. And the simplest way to start that practice is to follow one basic rule: Don't ever say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to someone you care about -- a friend, family member, or even a beloved pet.

2. Substitutions

Specifically, when it comes to your thyroid, and related symptoms, here are substitutions that may help reframe your thinking.

"I'm a hypo," "I'm a Hashi's" --> Instead, say "I'm a person with hypothyroidism," or "I'm a woman/man with Hashimoto's"

"I'm a hyperthyroidism sufferer" --> "I'm living with hyperthyroidism"

"I'm battling thyroid cancer" --) "I'm coping with thyroid cancer," or "I'm living through thyroid cancer"

"This Graves' is going to kill me" --> "I'm struggling to feel better with Graves' disease" "I will never lose a pound, even if I live on lettuce!" --> "It's challenging to lose weight."

"I'm always going to feel tired, and nothing I do will help." --> "I'm still looking for solutions to my fatigue."

3. Guided Meditation

Guided meditation, to help you get to a more peaceful, optimistic attitude about your health and thyroid, may also play an important role. This interview with Demo DiMartile talks about his Thyroid Meditation CD and audio for women with thyroid disease.

4. The "Yet" Technique

Whenever you want to make a negative statement, try this simple trick: just add the word "yet" to the end. For example, "I can't lose weight," becomes "I can't lose weight yet." Or "I haven't found a decent endocrinologist," becomes "I haven't found a decent endocrinologist yet." This simple change adds some degree of hope, and transforms what is otherwise a black/white, negative statement.

5. Name Your Critical Voice

Some experts recommend that you name that negative voice. In her article, Negative Self-Talk: 9 Ways To Silence Your Inner Critic, Jancee Dunn writes: "Give your inner critic a name. Preferably a silly one! It's hard to take that inner voice seriously when you call it The Nag. ("Here comes The Nag again.")" According to Dunn, Tamar E. Chansky, PhD, author of the book Freeing Yourself From Anxiety calls hers "The Perfectionist." According to Chansky: "Naming it something goofy adds a bit of levity, which helps break through the emotional hold that anxiety has on you. Over time, this short circuits the whole anxious cycle."

Other Ideas

For other approaches, read About.com's Elizabeth Scott terrific article, Positive Self Talk Techniques and Tips, which explains other techniques that may be effective for you.

You can also download the free PDF guidebook, Building Self-esteem: A Self-Help Guide, from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Ready to Give Up?


If you are truly so frustrated and fed up that you can't even think about making even the simplest change in the way that you talk about your health, then please read my article, I'm Tired, I'm Frustrated, and I GIVE UP! What To Do When You've Reached the End of Your Rope for a new way to look at the challenges we face living with a chronic illness.

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