For some people with fibromyalgia, “wintertime blues” takes on a whole new meaning. Stormy skies can impact mood and ability to get outdoor exercise; winds and rain can seem to exacerbate pain and other symptoms.
Since winter is fast approaching, we asked members of the National Fibromyalgia Association to send in their top tips for a flare-free winter. Following are their suggestions.
Don’t let gray skies get you down. Try using a sun box or full spectrum lighting to boost your mood—and your vitamin D intake. “I have a lamp with a full spectrum light bulb in it set on a timer to turn on about 15 minutes before my alarm goes off,” says Laine Christensen. “It sure helps me to get up more easily than waking to a dark room.”
Or try something low-tech to feel cheerier. “I have journaled my way through SAD during the long winter months,” says Janet Hofacker.
For many people, warmth is an excellent way to manage pain. In fact, a recent study from Kagoshima University Hospital in Japan looked at Waon therapy—soothing warmth therapy—as a method of fibromyalgia pain treatment, and found that all subjects experienced a roughly 50 percent reduction in pain after their first session.
A heated mattress, a heating pad, or an electric blanket can help you stay warm. Jan Murphy even uses a hot pad at the office! She keeps it set on low and moves it around where she needs it most—on her lap, against her hands, or beneath her feet. “The warmth really helps control the pain,” she says.
Warm baths and showers, hot tubs, extra layers of clothing, gloves, socks, and hats can all be helpful when you’re at home. Kelly Jo Yaksich, who lives in Nebraska, puts on her gloves, boots, and coat five to 10 minutes before she leaves, which helps her ward off the cold. Many patients also find the warmth of ThermaCare patches helpful.
Diane Spizzirri, who facilitates the NW Suburban Chicago Fibro Group, uses guided imagery to help her group keep warm.
“One such technique is the hand-warming technique in which you put your hands in front of you like you were warming them in front of a fire in a fireplace, then close your eyes and picture the fire, hear the crackling of the logs, and imagine the warmth coming off the fire and into your hands,” she says. “Works every time!”
Try putting some rice in a sock and stitching the ankle opening closed. Now you have a simple heating pad that you can warm in the microwave and place on your body to keep you warm. A loyal dog or cat can also provide you with comforting warmth—as well as companionship on cold nights.
Watch Your Weight
Cold winter days may make us crave comfort foods, sweet foods, fatty foods—and just plain more food! That change in diet, combined with less exercise thanks to rough weather, can lead to weight gain. Meg Fowler of Texas tries to combat this effect by changing her china. “I change all of the plates and bowls I use to smaller sizes and that way if I take an occasional second helping, I'm getting about a normal portion,” she says.
Carol Guthrie-Kolins of British Columbia drinks water before meals, as well as when she feels hunger pangs.
Research consistently finds that exercise is an excellent way to manage fibromyalgia symptoms—and walking is often touted as one of the best gentle exercises to adopt. But what to do when weather prevents you from going for your usual walk? Adapt to the season, and develop a new gentle exercise regimen that you can perform indoors. You can try yoga (check out the review of “Seated Yoga” ), get an exercise tape designed for people with FM, sign up for a tai chi class, get a membership to a warm-water pool, or get instruction in Pilates.
A good massage can also help keep your muscles limber. “A gentle massage not only feels great, it provides oxygen to the muscle tissue and it is the oxygen that helps heal a tired and inflammed muscle,” says massage therapist Dale Ann Malone, who has had FM for 10 years. “It also increases circulation (which will warm the body) and increases seratonin levels in the brain that aids in fighting depression.”
Murphy uses her Wii FIT to work out at home. “I concentrate on the weaker areas without exhausting myself,” she says.
Don't think of winter as a season to struggle through. Think of it as a season of experimentation! Try some new symptom management techniques during the coming months--you just may discover something that works great for you.