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Stress, Thyroid Eye Disease (TED), and Meditation

What people living with TED should know about stress, with tips on reducing stress with mindfulness meditation.

If you are living with thyroid eye disease, lowering stress should be a part of your management plan.

Medically reviewed in November 2022

Thyroid eye disease (TED) is a condition that affects people who have thyroid disorders. In most cases, TED affects people with overactive thyroid disorders, though there are rare cases where TED is associated with underactive thyroid disorders.

TED is most often caused by Graves’ disease. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition where the body produces antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. This causes the thyroid gland to become enlarged and produce excess amounts of thyroid hormones, disrupting many processes within the body.

Though the exact cause of TED is unknown, it’s believed that TED occurs when these antibodies also attack tissues surrounding the eyes, causing inflammation and damage. This can cause the eyeballs to bulge forward or protrude, which is one of the most recognizable symptoms of TED—and also one of the most distressing.

Can stress cause TED?
For most people who have TED, the condition begins with Graves’ disease. As is the case with many autoimmune disorders, the exact cause of Graves’ disease is unknown, but is believed to be a combination of genetics and environmental risk factors. In other words, genetics predispose a person to having Graves’ disease and environmental factors then activate the disease. Smoking, infections, and pregnancy are all examples of factors that may activate Grave’s disease.

Stress is another example. In some cases, events that cause severe emotional stress or put severe physical stress on the body are thought to contribute to the onset of Graves’ disease as well as other autoimmune diseases.

Can stress make TED worse?
Stress, Graves’ disease, and TED can have a complicated and cyclical relationship—stress may contribute to Graves’ disease that leads to TED, and having TED is often a stressful experience. Thyroid disorders can also cause irritability, anxiety, restlessness, and depression.

More research is needed to answer the question of whether stress can make Graves’ disease or TED worse. But one thing we do know—being under a lot of stress for any length of time will make it more difficult to manage any health condition.

When you are under a lot of stress, it will be more difficult to keep up with appointments, take medications on time, and look after other aspects of your health (like eating well and exercising). Stress can also make it easier to fall into unhealthy habits and behaviors that can worsen symptoms—like binge-eating unhealthy foods, smoking, or consuming alcohol.

These are all factors that can lead to worse outcomes for Graves’ disease and TED. Left untreated or undertreated, these conditions tend to get worse, causing more severe symptoms and complications.

Managing stress with meditation
If you are living with TED, lowering stress should be a part of your management plan. This means that stress—or any other difficult moods or emotions—are something that you should be discussing with your healthcare providers.

It also means building habits that can help you reduce stress. One example is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is recommended for people who are treating many different conditions, as a healthy way to help reduce stress.

One benefit of mindfulness meditation is that it takes very little investment to get started. All you really need is a few minutes to yourself.

  • You can try a free app, a free trial of a paid app, or a guided video that can walk you through the process.
  • You can also simply set a 3- to 5-minute timer, and spend those minutes focusing on breathing, how your body feels, and the sounds in the space around you—all while trying to clear your head and let go of thoughts.
  • Whichever method you choose, you’ll need a quiet space where you can assume a comfortable position, either sitting or reclining.
  • Remember that meditation is about practice, not perfection. It’s okay if attention wanders or thoughts interrupt. When they do, just refocus your attention and keep going.

Meditation is not the only method of reducing stress. Making time for things you enjoy, spending time with friends and loved ones, exercise, and pursuing creative hobbies are all helpful in reducing stress. It can also help to connect with other people living with Graves’ disease or TED through an online or in-person support group—after all, they are the only people who truly know what it’s like to live with these conditions.

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Cleveland Clinic. Bulging Eyes (Proptosis).
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Graves' Disease.
Mayo Clinic. Graves' Disease.
Huan Song, Fang Fang, et al. Association of Stress-Related Disorders With Subsequent Autoimmune Disease. JAMA, 2018. Vol. 319, No. 23.
Todd B. Nippildt. Can thyroid disease affect my mood? Mayo Clinic.
Chase A. Liaboe, Brittany A. Simmons, et al. Thyroid Eye Disease: A Summary of Information for Patients. University of Iowa Health Care. January 17, 2020.
Geraldine Falgarone, Hassan M Heshmati, et al. MECHANISMS IN ENDOCRINOLOGY: Role of emotional stress in the pathophysiology of Graves' disease. European Journal of Endocrinology, 2013. Vol. 168, No. 1.
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