By Wendy Burnett
When you have a chronic illness like fibromyalgia, every season has its challenges, but I think winter is the hardest to cope with. Not only is it cold, which tenses up muscles and increases pain levels; but there are so many other issues as well. Basically, winter with fibro sucks, and here are just a few of the reasons (if you have more, leave me a comment and I’ll add them):
- It’s cold, and frequently damp
- The weather changes all the time, which means barometric pressure changes and more aches and pains
- Shorter days and lower vitamin D levels that increase depression
- Being cooped up indoors without being able to open windows and doors increases exposure to indoor molds, toxins, and contagious illnesses; increasing allergic responses and physical stressors
- The weather makes exercising more difficult. Between higher pain levels and less ability to exercise outdoors or get to the gym we can slip into a vicious cycle of exercising less, which increases pain levels even more, and makes it even more difficult to exercise.
So how do we deal with all this “stuff” and keep our health from slipping? There are a ton of ways to minimize the winter “blahs,” but the most important one is: don’t give up! You may need to change some routines, but winter doesn’t have to be a miserable, depressing experience. I try to look at it as a challenge to my ingenuity, looking for new ways to get where I need to be and accomplish what I need (and want) to do.
Winter Survival Strategies:
Dealing with the cold (and damp): Layer, layer, layer! Several light layers of clothing, topped with a blanket; will keep you more comfortable than wearing one heavy item. Layering your clothes traps air between the layers and increases the amount of insulation they provide. If one pair of socks isn’t keeping your feet warm, add another light pair instead of taking off the ones you’re wearing and changing to a heavier pair.
If you’ve read much of this blog, you know how much I love hot packs . . . They’re even more wonderful in cold weather. Even if you don’t have a specific ache that needs heat (not likely, but it happens,) putting a hot pack in the chair or bed with you will help you stay warmer all over.
Flannel sheets are warmer than smooth cotton blends, and an electric blanket or mattress pad can make a huge difference in your ability to stay warm at night. They also provide gentle, all-over heat for the more general aches that tend to come with winter weather.
Shorter days and depression: Using full spectrum light bulbs will help, and so will adding a vitamin D supplement (low vitamin D increases depression, and with shorter, gloomier days our body doesn’t make enough.) Adding B vitamins can also help, either through supplements or more veggies.
Isolation is something else that can increase depression levels, and winter weather frequently keeps us at home. Finding online support through Twitter, Facebook, or forums can make a huge difference.
Being cooped up indoors: Adding a few potted plants will increase indoor air quality (if you have pets, make sure they’re safe if they get nibbled or keep them where your pets can’t munch them.) English ivy is an excellent plant for reducing indoor toxins, and it’s pretty easy to take care of too. There are many more options as well, and Treehugger has an excellent article on the subject, based on a NASA study on which plant is best for various pollutants.
To reduce the chances that I’ll catch something, I make sure I wash my hands regularly (with plain soap and water, antibacterials don’t help against viruses and increase the number of resistant bacteria,) get plenty of vitamin C and eat more onions and garlic. This last one is a bit controversial, because I also avoid vaccines like the plague. (The ONLY times in the last 15 years or so that my husband and I have actually had the flu were the two years we got a flu shot, and I’ve only gotten a cold once.)
Exercise: This is the toughest one for me because most of my exercise comes from walking to work, and in the winter that’s harder to do. If it’s too cold, or it’s raining, my husband and roommates make sure I have a ride, so I have to get a bit more creative. I’ll frequently do a couple of laps of the store I work at, or, on bad days, just get up and walk across the room a couple of times every hour or so. There are also videos on YouTube for fibromyalgia exercises that can be done while sitting down, which is especially helpful during flares because they’re very gentle and put less stress on your body.
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- Arthritis Pain Relief for Winter Weather (everydayhealth.com)
- Cold Weather is One of my Worst Enemies (myinspiredlifewithfibromyalgia.blogspot.com)