winter alone reminds us of the human condition.”
But winter can also offer some difficulties for those of us who live with fibromyalgia. We are going to explore things that might help us manage better.
We hear that fibromyalgia (FM) is not affected by weather. And while that may be true for some, many of us believe otherwise. So I sat down, head in hands, determined to decipher the differences between the science and the reality.
Dr. Robert Bennett, lead investigator in a study (1), says one should always consider other pain disorders when diagnosing and treating fibromyalgia. So I came to the conclusion that while fibromyalgia may not be directly affected by winter weather, there are conditions, called comorbid or co-existing conditions, that are affected by cold weather and can trudge along with fibromyalgia.
Comorbid: an independent co-existing disorder that occurs more frequently with certain other medical conditions.
Co-existing: a condition that co-occurs in the same patient without relevance to comorbidity.
Some comorbid and/or co-existing conditions include:
- Rheumatic autoimmune disorders
- Ankylosing spondylitis (AS)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Myofascial pain syndrome
(development of trigger points due to shivering)
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS/RSD)
Additional Physical Effects of Winter
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Besides comorbid or co-existing conditions that can make fibromyalgia symptoms more difficult to manage, there are other things to consider during the winter months.
For instance, do you know cold intolerance? If you do, you are among the many fibromites who share this phenomenon, including myself. We don’t know if it is the nature of fibromyalgia or a symptom of a coexisting condition like hypothyroidism or Raynaud’s phenomenon, but I recognize my fellow circulation-challenged friends. We are cloaked for warmth well after the exposure to cold is gone. Our core stays cold, like a block of dry ice with icicles for arms and legs.
A dry warm environment is something we welcome when the snow is falling. But many of us know when dry is not welcome. The crisp dry air that blows in with winter presents challenges as we try to accommodate the effects of dry mucous membranes, eyes, hair, nails, and skin. If your nails break at the drop of a hat, your hair stands on end, your eyelids feel like sand paper, and your skin flakes like a snake shedding its skin, you know what I mean.
A Body under Siege
Winter brings a few other stressors. Some are the same for everyone, but when you live with FM, you know our physical and emotional responses to stress are abnormal. The normal fluctuation of hormones and other important chemical messengers that prepare us for flight-or-fight (a physical stress response) or provide us with a pleasant mood are absent. So let’s consider some things that might stress our body and our mind over the winter.
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Pre-holiday stress and post-holiday let down
- Holiday food triggers – Stressed is desserts spelled backwards
(plant these seed words in your thought garden)
- Overindulgence of foods that convert to sugar in the body
and interfere with our immune response
- Exposure to cold and winter viruses
- Migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, or other comorbid conditions
- Worry about access to medication or appointments
- Seasonal affective disorder or depression
that is affected by the gloomy skies of winter
Snowflake Moments – What We CAN Do
- Manage all conditions
- Know our triggers
- Have a plan in case of a flare
(things that have helped in the past)
- Discuss alternative plans with your doctor
- Find ways to stay active at home, like following a T’ai Chi DVD
- Curl up with a good self-help book,
such as one on mindfulness or meditation
- Bundle up; get out, even if to just sit and watch people.
Being around people can be prevent feelings of isolation.
- Start a journal
- Start a new tradition, such as finding healthier recipes
to share over the holidays
- Use lamps that mimic daylight
- Minimize the effects of cold exposure on muscles
by doing warm up and stretching exercises
- Stay hydrated
- Moisturize dry skin, eyes, and nasal membranes
- Make music – turn on your favorite music while doing chores
- Watch old classic movies or take in a new movie at the theater
- Call friends you haven’t talked to in a while
- Focus on positives, such as the brightness and purity of new fallen snow
- Appreciate having time to do things you have put off,
like cleaning out and organizing closets or old pictures
- Take pleasure in soothing activities, such as sitting by a fireplace while drinking a warm cup of hot chocolate or cider laden with mulling spices. Don’t have a fireplace? Use your imagination.
Don’t limit your thinking. Instead, embrace what you know. When we find ways to balance our mental, emotional and spiritual needs, we are able to live a fulfilled life despite of — and sometimes because of — living with chronic pain and illness, and we can find joy in winter solace.
- Bennett R, et al. Criteria for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia: Validation of the modified 2010 preliminary ACR criteria and the development of alternative criteria. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2014 Feb 4. doi: 10.1002/acr.22301. [Epub ahead of print]
|Celeste Cooper, RN, is an advocate, writer and published author, and she is a person living with chronic pain. She is lead author of Integrative Therapies for Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Myofascial Pain and Broken Body, Wounded Spirit, Balancing the See Saw of Chronic Pain (a four book series). She spends her time enjoying her family and the rewards she receives from interacting with nature through her writing and photography. You can learn more about Celeste’s writing, advocacy work, helpful tips, and social network connections at http://CelesteCooper.com.|