“People don’t know whether it’s winter or summer, when they’re happy. ” – Anton Chekov
As the weather in Alberta has now quickly changed to winter, I have been thinking about what that change can mean to those of us who live with an illness. Whether you have an illness that affects you physically or emotionally, winter can be a force that is difficult to deal with.
The snow and ice came somewhat as a shock to me this year. It seemed like we went from hot summer, to freezing temperatures over night. We still have some of our Halloween decorations buried under the unwelcome layer of frozen betrayal to the green of warmer days. Although I some days look outside and can acknowledge the beauty of the crispness and icy ground, it still always feels oppressing to me as I know how much more limited my movements will become. Even though I struggle with extreme heat in the summer, I have found ways to adapt. I take part in physical activities in the morning when it is cooler. We have put air conditioning into our house so I can sleep with the heat and if I start to overheat outside, I can seek refuge in the cool house. Winter is different. Although we of course have heating in our house, I find my body is much more unwilling to regulate temperature when I have been outside and come in. I frequently find myself huddled under an electric blanket trying to stop shaking from the cold even when I have been back inside for hours.
On top of the chilliness that winter brings for me, I also find that my spasticity becomes worse. My muscles cramp and spasm more which is quite painful. There are a few things that I have found that help. I use Japanese mint oil to rub into my sore muscles which seems to help. I have also found that warm baths can help to return my body to a somewhat “normal” temperature. I also use a heating pad when things seize up too much. It is so funny that the heat that makes my symptoms worse in the summer, can help pain for me in the winter.
Another obstacle in winter for many people is mobility. Although slipping is something I believe everyone is more concerned with this time of year, for people with physical impairments it can be frightening. There are times when I will not leave the house because of fear of falling. There is the issue of the pain falling can bring, but also the possible inability to get yourself back up. Some tools I have found that have proven to be useful are a cane with a spike on the end that will stick into the ground better, making sure I have boots with fantastic tread and grip, as well as using my walker more often. I have learned over the years that it is way less embarrassing to use a cane and wear unfashionable shoes than it is to go sprawling to the ground due to poor weather conditions. I think many people also get substantially more sedentary during the winter months. I don’t go out for walks and even limit the amount I go out places for activity. I have found that utilizing videos for exercises you can do in the house have helped me fill in that void. Although it is no where near as fun to do a walking video by yourself in you living room as opposed to getting out in nature on a nice sunny day, it still allows me to get some level of exercise.
Equally as difficult to deal with during the cold months, is maintaining emotional balance. November means the start of substantially less daylight in the northern hemisphere. Many people leave the house to start their day in the dark, and don’t return home until it is dark again. This can be very trying for people who suffer with anxiety and depression. Daylight is an essential part of everyone’s mental health. If you find yourself in this situation, some things that may help are purchasing a light therapy machine to create some of that light you are lacking. Also, try sitting outside with some hot chocolate during one of your breaks from work or at home. Soak up any sunlight that you can access during the darkest of months. Another thing that I believe everyone living in northern climates should add into their regime is vitamin D3 tablets. I believe everyone who lives in northern areas are D3 deficient most of the winter months. Adding in some extra can help lighten your mood as well.
Further tools include making sure to see a counselor during times that are rough for you. Winter is always my hardest time to keep my anxiety in check. If I don’t see someone to talk though things with who can give me a different perspective, things can look very grim. Another thing I try to force myself to do is get out with friends and family. Getting out of your own 4 walls to spend time with people who love you, can do wonders to change your outlook on life. I think the cold makes everyone want to hole up. Getting out or having a friend come over can change the bleakness of the season.
Distraction is also a tool I use when I get into a funk. I have some hobbies that I can immerse myself in such as art, music and writing that can make the sun come out in my imagination even if it is not present outside. Try to find something that you love to do even if it seems silly. Sometimes silly is exactly what we need.
This article is just my attempt to provide some options for those of us who struggle through the colder months due to physical limitations or emotional ones. I am by no means a therapist or doctor and am just providing some tools that have worked for me and may work for you as well. Winter can be rough. Try to get out an enjoy the beauty of the crisp snow and times of family gatherings and get-togethers with friends and co-workers.