Baby It's Cold outside: Surviving Winter with RA
Although Toronto's portion of Groundhog Day storm wasn't quite the Snowmageddon the very excitable weather guys called for, I still have a serious case of winter fatigue. My windows are frozen shut most of the time, my hands are red and raw from cold, I'm tired of shivering and somehow, being in the depth of a cold snap makes everything more stressful. Between the weather and the demands of life, you can feel cold both physically and emotionally.
Being cold is never fun, but it's an excellent challenge when you have rheumatoid arthritis - many of us find that the pain gets worse when there's a chill in the air. Whether it's your RA flaring, stiff joints getting stiffer with cold or the instinctive tension that happens when you're on the verge of shivering all the time, the end result is more pain.
Staying warm is essential and that means layers: undershirt, long underwear or tights, a cardigan on top of your sweater and if you can get your hands on woolen socks, all the better. Do you knit or know someone who does? Wrist warmers or fingerless gloves worn inside can do wonders in the quest to keep your hands protected against draft and can add an extra bit of snazzy to your outfit. Legwarmers also a good idea, although not always common at work unless you're on Dancing with the Stars. A down or knitted vest can keep your torso warm and seems to be relatively trendy at the moment so you can make warmth into a fashion statement. Scarves are also trendy and not just when you're bundling up for outside - colorful and patterned silk and rayon scarves are making a comeback. Keep your feet, hands and neck warm and all of you will feel better.
But winter is just about cold, it's also about dark. It's dark when you get out of bed, dark when you come home from work, we work in rooms without windows and there are times where it seems as if you haven't seen the sun for months. Human beings need light and without it, your mood may suffer. Many are familiar with what it feels to have a mild case of the February blahs, but some get a full-fledged case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Do you have feelings of depression, anxiety or hopelessness? Are you as prickly as a porcupine, have trouble focusing or craving carbohydrates? Do these feelings come back about the same time every year or if it's the first time you've experienced them, noticed them getting worse the darker it gets? You may have Seasonal Affective Disorder. Talk to your doctor about how you're feeling - counseling or medication might be helpful. Light therapy can also be very helpful, but it's not just sitting in front of a reading lamp - it has to be a special lamp with a special kind of light. You can read more about SAD and phototherapy on our Depression site.
Circle the Wagons
We all have a tendency to hunker in for the duration, curling up on the couch with a cup of something hot and a book or a movie - the human equivalent of hibernating. It's a terrific idea, but if you do too many times, it can become isolating and before you know it, it's not cozy anymore, but leave you feeling lost and lonely. You add pain and flares brought on by almost daily fluctuations in barometric pressure and your emotional and physical health start to suffer. Being in touch with people you love and the friends who make you laugh can be an essential part of making it through the depth of winter. On bad days, have a long chat with a friend on the phone and on better days, even if it's just a little, kick yourself out of the house. You won't just be helping yourself, but the people you care about, as well, thawing out the isolation and loneliness of each other and having a good time in the process. Think of it as mittens for the soul.
Do you have tips for surviving winter?
Lene is the author of the award-winning blog The Seated View.