Falling temperatures don’t just signal winter’s approach: many of us find that cold weather exacerbates our fibromyalgia symptoms, increasing our levels of fatigue and pain. Moreover, the dangers posed by sleet, ice, and snow conspire to keep fibromites indoors during the winter – so we move less and experience more pain. But take heart! There are ways to mitigate these problems and thrive even during the coldest season.
The most important thing you can do is to be kind to yourself. Think NOW about how you can protect your body and mind against winter’s onslaught, and take the steps you need to feel secure during the long winter ahead. Remember, stress is a major factor in fibromyalgia pain: when you plan ahead, you’ll feel more in control of your environment and your health.
For instance, are you dreading the thought of shoveling snow? Now might be the time to consider a new strategy. For instance, you could try an ergonomic snow shovel or a wheeled snow shovel. [This video gives tips on shoveling with a traditional snow shovel: it's geared to those with osteoporosis, but I found the video valuable nonetheless.] Or perhaps this year you need someone else to do this task. Family, friends, and neighbors are all nice options, but they aren’t always available – whereas professional yard-care and snow-removal companies are. Ice removal from your sidewalk, driveway, and porch can also be a burden: while it’s easy to sprinkle sand or salt onto your pavement, it’s not so easy to get back up after a slip – so again, consider talking with a professional.
If winter weather is severe in your area, plan ahead for days without power or water. Make sure your house is insulated and weatherized – it’ll help keep your pipes from bursting. [Call a professional if you need help with this: he or she should be experienced enough to find potential problems that you or I might not notice but could be disastrous if not caught in time.] Look into alternative heating and energy sources, and have on hand plenty of non-perishable food and clean water – as well as extra doses of your prescriptions and supplements! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer lots of tips, as does Ready.gov; your state and local authorities will likely have a website dedicated to emergency preparedness as well.
Live with family or friends? Enforced togetherness often leads to stress-related conflict. Set aside projects, activities, and games that you can all do together even when the power’s out, and have at least one flashlight or battery-operated lantern per person – it’s amazing what having some “alone time” can do for morale! Don’t let the weather keep your household from moving about: encourage exercise by challenging people to track the number of steps they take each day, or push back the furniture and judge an impromptu jumping-jack contest. Talent shows and art exhibitions are wonderful ways to pass the time productively. Remember – the less stress in your home, the less stress in your body.
But people aren’t the only members of many households. Think about the effects of the weather on your pets – and consider how your actions might affect them. For instance, do you plan to conserve energy and dollars by turning the heat down? A drop in temperature of even a few degrees can induce hibernation in your hamster. Your reptile might not hibernate, but it could develop hypothermia: maintain a safe temperature in its environment, adding a heated mat or hot-water bottle if necessary. Outdoor-going pets face different problems. How will your dog get its daily exercise in extreme weather? Indoor potties or pee pads can work for bathroom emergencies, but for longer walks or play, a dog day care (one that picks up your pet from home) or a pet walker might be the right choice for your pup. Do your cats spend time outside? Make sure they have adequate shelter and check them regularly (especially their feet) for signs of frostbite; also, make sure that their water dish doesn’t freeze over. Throughout the winter, maintain ample stocks of all pet supplies, including food, litter, and medication.
During cold weather, allow yourself extra time to get places or perform tasks – even when there’s no snow or ice present. Many fibromites experience significant stiffness and pain when temperatures drop. Try some gentle stretching or a warm beverage to help get moving. If you’re driving, a remote-control car starter may be useful: you can safely warm your car’s interior and defrost/de-ice its windows without leaving your home. And remember to beef up your emergency car kit: see our Travel page for suggestions on what to include.
Wear layers of lightweight, water-proof clothing, both inside and outside. [See our Clothing page for more suggestions.] Sock and glove liners help wick away moisture and keep your extremities dry, and you can supplement them with hand and foot warmers. Insulated shoes and boots are important parts of your winter wardrobe, as are hats. Consider shopping from outdoor-sports stores, like REI or Cabela’s – they specialize in keeping people warm and dry in extreme weather, and they often have sales or outlets. Proper outdoor clothing, while it can be expensive, is ultimately an investment in your health and well-being.
Your skin is your body’s defense against the world – but it needs extra help in cold, dry weather. [Even if you live in a damp climate, most sources of home heating are very drying.] Be sure to moisturize your entire body regularly. Use non-drying cleansers in lieu of soaps, and apply lip balm as needed. Your hair may need additional conditioning, too: extra blow-drying (don’t go out with wet hair!) and time spent in artificially-heated homes can really dry it out. Consider using a steamer or vaporizer when you’re home to help protect your outer crust.
Be careful not to overexert yourself – which is difficult, in light of approaching holidays. [We'll post loads of tips for handling holiday responsibilities, I promise!] It’s more difficult for your body to repair itself when it’s cold out. Whenever possible, take the opportunity to do something nice for yourself - whether that means resting for a few minutes while running errands or treating yourself to a steamy mug of apple cider. However, eating too much to help manage stress and anxiety usually backfires, so indulge in moderation.
As always, focus on what will make you strong, healthy, and happy – whatever that means for you. Be safe, well, and warm – and remember that spring will come again.