6 Strategies For Taking A Holistic Approach To Treating Autoimmune Disease

Photo: Priscilla du Preez/unsplash
6 Strategies For Taking A Holistic Approach To Treating Autoimmune Disease
Health And Wellness

Some suggestions to help you thrive if you have an autoimmune disorder.

Autoimmune conditions are on the rise. 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 with an autoimmune disease, traditional medicine can't do much to help, aside from prescription medication that slow the progression of the disease or manage symptoms.

I am not discounting the value of medication — it is valuable. But it is also valuable to look at what else can be done for you to not only feel better, but also to truly live life to the fullest.

RELATED: How Living With Hashimoto's & Lyme Disease Taught Me To Stand Up For Myself — And My Health

If you suffer from an autoimmune disorder, then you know how complex managing your symptoms can be.

So, what is an autoimmune condition? 

Well, to put it simply, it is a disease where the body attacks itself in some way.

There are over 100 autoimmune conditions, according to the America Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARD).

Autoimmune diseases can be mysterious.

Besides the exhaustive list of disorders, 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," "eating too much," "needed to exercise more," that "some pain or fatigue was a normal part of aging," or even that I "missed and had heavy periods when 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 three years to be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease and even then, I was just given a prescription and not any other strategies to manage my fatigue, joint pain, or weight.

Naturopathic medicine can help.

Eventually, I chose to see a naturopath for more answers and ever since I started working with her, I feel stronger, healthier, and able to support my body so I can function at the highest possible level for me.

In addition, I have an acupuncturist, have figured out what food works best with my body, what movement is appropriate, how to manage my stress, and much more.

I had to find out all of this information on my own, and I want to shorten the road for you.

Advocate for yourself.

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 receive support.

So, it becomes necessary to be your own advocate, especially because dealing with an autoimmune disease also affects your mental health.

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 my experience, 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? There are some strategies and techniques for you to try.

You may be wondering why should you listen to me. Well, 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 a Nutrition Therapy Practitioner (NTP), I have found that there are multiple strategies to help manage autoimmune conditions by taking the holistic approach.

(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.)

Here are 6 holistic techniques and strategies for treating autoimmune disease.

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 stressed out 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.

Also, notice that I didn’t say when I am under stress — I said, when I feel more stressed than normal.

This distinction is important because a certain amount of stress is healthy and normal, while 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-or-flight mode and your adrenal glands are producing cortisol. During this time period, your other bodily functions are temporarily slowed down.

In 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, here are some strategies that allow you to work with your thoughts and, therefore, decrease your stress...

Meditation

Meditation reduces your stress levels and gives your swirling mind a break, even if for a few seconds between the thoughts. 

Take time out to meditate daily. Only a few minutes a day is a great start.

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 and 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 is mind/body exercise.

When you engage in this type of movement, it increases body awareness and also allows you to get off 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.

2. Sleep and sleep routine.

When we sleep our body repairs and restores itself. Getting enough rest is vital for a person with an autoimmune disorder. 

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 and 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 noon or 1 p.m. 

If you consume caffeine, consider reducing your intake or at least not consuming caffeine after 1 p.m. This gives your body enough time to process and eliminate it from your system.

Eliminate 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 or journaling.

Your routine may include changing for bed, washing your face, and brushing your teeth. I encourage you to spend a few minutes reading or writing before bed, in addition to what you already do to prepare.

Good sleep is essential for humans to function at their best, and it's even more vital for those with an autoimmune disorder.

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 connections 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 or alcohol.

Numbing or distractions 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're not sure what do to create more connection in your life, you can start with these ideas...

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 book a clarity session with a counselor. 

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 a coffee or tea date.

Now, it’s time to take action and 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.

RELATED: 10 Warning Signs That Something’s Up With Your Health

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've 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 or attacking yourself, ask yourself, "How can I love myself?"

On an energetic level, an autoimmune disorder is a person attacking themselves. It may be difficult to figure out where to start your journey to self-love, but the idea is taking a step in that direction.

Do one thing for yourself that you need or want but haven’t done because you don’t think you deserve it. Go ahead.

Taking this 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.

5. Have boundaries and learn how to say "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 communicates with us, loudly. But, 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 over-commit, you become 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? 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."

Some people don’t like it when a person sets boundaries, so some reactions will not be ideal. 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.

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've used it for years and it has helped me manage my pain, stress, and improve my overall well-being.

Diet is also important. Food sensitives often aggravate symptoms.

If you are not sure if you have any sensitivities, 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 pay attention to your diet and your symptoms, keep a food diary, and then eliminate the suspected foods for 21 days and then reintroduce 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. Try one of these strategies before trying them all.

My hope is that once you take better care of your health and wellness, you become more in-tune with your body, feel more empowered, and are able to manage your symptoms holistically.

RELATED: Doing These 10 Things Before 10 A.M. Can Seriously Improve Your Health

Sign Up for the YourTango Newsletter

Let's make this a regular thing!

Kavita Melwani is a certified empowerment coach, hypnotherapist, past-life regressionist, certified money marketing and soul coach, and a Reiki Master. To schedule a clarity session, visit her website.

This article was originally published at The Enlightened Heart. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Author
Expert