Getting Through Cold Winter Months with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Sara Nash Health Guide January 13, 2010
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    January.The start of a new year is here, bringing with it renewed vigor, renewed zeal and well-meaning resolutions in abundance. It always sounds so optimistic and full of promise, but if you are like me, RA can get January, and the new year, off on the wrong track.

    The first problem with January is that it follows December, which is one of the busiest, most hectic and indulgent months of the year. Try as I might, I never manage to use the holiday break to really rest.  How can I?  Travel is usually involved, and once I get wherever it is I’m going, I’m too excited and eager to see my family and friends to take much of a breather.  After all, I want to enjoy my time with them as much as possible, so I tend to over do it; I eat a little too much, I drink a little too much, I stay up a little too late one too many nights in a row. Then, just when I should be recovering from the Christmas overload, New Year’s rolls around, and I do it all over again.  I can tell myself I’ll take it easy, but after 31 years, I know myself well enough to know there’s not much chance of that happening unless I am really under the RA-weather. If I can rally at all, bets are on that I will.

    Then, before I can say ‘Midnight,’ January has arrived and it’s time to go back to work and jump right in.  All the magazines on the newsstands will tout some new diet or exercise regimen that will make me feel like I need to revamp my entire lifestyle, pronto.  Everyone will start to resolution this and resolution that, meanwhile, I’ll still be trying to catch my breath.  Before RA, I had no problem bouncing back from my holiday celebrations, but now, it’s a whole other story since RA can deplete my energy without the added effort on my part.

    By the time the long holiday weekend in January arrives to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr., I am usually in a sleep fog, wondering where the first half of the month went and why I haven’t gotten anything I meant to do done.

    The second big problem with January is the weather.  In the North East, January means cold, dismal gray days filled with sleet and snow.  It means big, heavy boots and puffy jackets that take added effort to get on and off, and very little sunshine. All of this means my joints will be steeped in that awful, bone-penetrating cold that grinds them to a halt and makes them moan louder than a banshee. When the sun sets each day before 5pm, so too does my energy and with it, the idea of applying myself to anything virtuous or noteworthy.  Motivation is not usually a part of my vocabulary in the winter months.

    Nonetheless, work piles up and must be done.  Good intentions and projects put off from the year before sit there waiting, making me feel like I’m being left behind to make love to my couch as the rest of the world participates in a collective ritualistic fit of uber-productivity that includes joining the gym, going raw and cleaning out their closets.

  • So what’s a gal to do? Sadly, chucking RA isn’t an option.  This year, at least, I do have a few things in my corner that I hope will help me fight back the January blahs that are made worse by RA. The first is a sure-fire antidote to the nasty, bone-chilling cold, and one that I didn’t have at my disposal in my tiny New York apartment: a bathtub.  The only way to really get that awful damp coldness out of my joints is to soak in a hot, steaming tub till I sweat. And in my book, a little bit of pampering goes a long way in helping the soul, too. Any added hint of luxury makes me feel a little lighter and a wee bit happier with myself, even if it is stupid January.

    The second tool to shaking off the stale effects of winter is yoga.  Of course, first I have to launch myself off the couch to actually do it, but once I get on my mat, moving through some sun salutations helps my body ward off the evil effects of RA while reminding me that there are, literally, sunnier times ahead. Finding time to practice even for ten minutes is better than nothing at all, and remembering this often helps encourage (or shame) me out of the lame excuses I’m good at generating in order to avoid doing something I know will be good for me.  Practicing back bends, even gentle or supported back bends, can be especially invigorating in the winter months and help revive flagging energy levels.

    Third, I find that winter is a good time to plan. I may not feel up to doing all that much, but most of my adventurous trips – to sunny destinations, no less – have been hatched while I was hibernating in the winter. Even though I probably won’t be planning an exotic trip this year, I can use this time to organize my goals for the rest of the year and lay out a strategy on what I want to get done once the first thaw finally arrives.

    And last but not least, on the days when I can’t really manage to do much of anything, I’ll do well to remember my new favorite motto: rest is productive.

    Sara is the author of the blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.