Living with hypothyroidism can sometimes affect your work life. It’s an aspect we often don’t talk about, and in my opinion don’t talk about enough, but there are many thousands of people out there struggling to maintain in employment with this condition.
I have been one of those people. Needing time off work for my physical and mental health due to thyroid disease, needing to make adaptations at work and even learning how to adjust my mindset, have all been important in regards to staying in employment as a thyroid patient.
There are certain adjustments that can make working with thyroid disease easier and I’m going to share what has helped me, although these may differ slightly depending on your line of work. Since being diagnosed, I have only worked in office environments as I didn’t get on with more manual jobs and longer hours.
So probably the most important consideration I have learnt to take in to account with a job are the hours. I’ve done shift work in the past, working for twelve hours straight, on my feet and without a break or sitting down. This kind of role is going to be a struggle at the best of times for someone with a thyroid condition. It’s a constant test and strain on the body and when you’re living with a chronic health condition, it’s even more so. It’s a strain your already disadvantaged body really doesn’t need. Though of course, it really depends on what you can safely manage physically, without worsening your health or preventing it from improving.
When looking for new jobs and opportunities, I have learnt that I do best with 9-5 type hours, definitely not night shifts and definitely not long hours of work. After so long, my brain and body start to switch off, which means I’m not going to be of any use to myself come clocking off time, let alone my employer when I can’t think properly to ensure accurate work.
I have also since moved from full-time to part-time work over the last year or so which has struck a much better balance with my health and personal life. Even though I am often considered to be very young to be working part-time hours already, I am no longer having to spend weekday evenings and weekends recuperating for the next week of work, now I have time to not only recuperate from work but also enjoy my personal time. It has struck a much better work-life balance and you’ll need to analyse your own job and possibly hours to work out where you could strike this balance for yourself. After all, work isn’t everything in life and you should be making time for de-stressing, seeing friends and family and hobbies.
As well as your hours of work, looking at your line of work is also important. As I touched on above, if you’re doing something that physically drains you, leaving you no room to improve your health but instead is possibly even worsening it, you should really consider whether a less active or strenuous job would be better suited to your health. Whilst no one wants to feel like their thyroid condition is ruling their life, by ignoring any signs that your job is actually worsening your health, you could drive yourself in to a worse state, developing other conditions on top of thyroid disease such as the infamous adrenal fatigue – learn about the connection between the thyroid and adrenals here.
Looking at your workspace and environment and considering how you can make it more comfortable can also be beneficial. I like to keep a hot water bottle and blanket with me at work during the colder months, and I asked to sit away from drafty areas when the layout of our office changed. I also have a BPA-free water bottle on my desk at all times and keep it filled up, ensuring I stay well hydrated to keep headaches away, which are so common when working with computer screens all day. I also avoid caffeinated drinks at work as I know these trigger migraines. It’s important for me to ensure I stay well watered and promote good health even when working.
Some people with a thyroid condition may also benefit from noise cancelling headphones if you find it hard to concentrate, for example from thyroid brain fog or feeling fatigued. Really look at your work environment and consider even small changes that could help you be more comfortable and make your work life easier when managing hypothyroidism as well. These will differ from person to person, depending on their own symptoms on thyroid disease and work environment.
Stress levels at work should also be evaluated when you have a thyroid condition. I’m not saying to stop following your dreams of becoming a high-powered lawyer if that’s what you want, but do consider when stress levels start to become detrimental to your health. Not addressing these can seriously worsen your health further, especially in the form of adrenal fatigue. Worsening your health over work is really not worth it, because you won’t be able to work at all if you let it carry on to a point of serious harm.
I’ve learnt this the hard way and changed jobs a few times until I found a role and environment that caused much lower stress levels. In fact, practically non-existent stress levels and it’s so reassuring to know that my job isn’t stopping me from getting back to good thyroid health.
You also need to be able to switch off from work, keeping plenty of time for yourself in the evenings and weekends (or whenever your non-work days are) for unwinding and enjoying your own time. When you can’t switch off from your role after leaving the office, this is a big warning sign that it’s threatening your health. Not switching off is a threat to your sleep quality and cortisol levels, which, when raised over a prolonged period of time, is a recipe for disaster.
It can make a world of difference having a boss and colleagues who understand your health struggles. Whether you decide to disclose any of your health conditions to people at work is your decision to make, but I prefer to have clear channels of communication and make those around me aware. This is beneficial if I’m having a flare up, need to go to a medical appointment or move my hours around slightly, my manager is very understanding. With his prior knowledge of my conditions, he already supports me doing whatever helps me manage my health effectively, because it means in the end I am more fit for work, getting more work done and fulfilling the role I am paid to do.
To open up communication on your health condition, you could organize a bake sale or charity event day which provides an opportunity to discuss how it affects you and raise awareness.
Thyroid disease can touch every part of your life including your work, but there are things you can do, like those mentioned above, that can help you manage it and create a better work-life balance.
Rachel Hill, The Invisible Hypothyroidism
Thyroid Patient Advocate
Diagnosed with Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME), as well as having Adrenal Fatigue and experience with Depression and Anxiety Disorder, Rachel Hill is an advocate for better quality of life for hypothyroid patients and writes at The Invisible Hypothyroidism, covering all aspects of what it’s like to have these conditions. Rachel is one of the many faces of thyroid disease and she’s passionate about helping those with hypothyroidism and giving them a voice.