Hunkering Down During the Dark Days of Winter

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by Allison Ross |

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A few weeks ago, Kansas City, Missouri, got several inches of heavy snow. It happened on a Friday night, so we locals braced ourselves for a long weekend of staying in and getting cozy. (I’m in the middle of my hibernation month, so I wasn’t planning to go out anyway.)

Hardships aren’t necessarily more common this time of year, but they can be more intense. It’s challenging to do just about anything when the temperatures drop. Eating healthy meals requires venturing out for groceries and overcoming cold weather cravings. Running any errand means first bundling up and warming up the car. Even waking up in the morning can be difficult when the sky is still dark.

Perhaps the worst of all is the seasonal depression. For those of us who struggle with depression on a regular basis, the dark and cold of winter can exacerbate symptoms and stretch this frustrating disorder to its limit.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter, and I’m Prepared

On days when I feel especially listless, distracted, or unmotivated, I have to remind myself that external factors are affecting my outlook. It’s cyclical, and it’s real. Sometimes the difference between a good day and a bad one is simply sunlight peeking through an overcast sky.

Seven months ago, I wrote about the inverse situation. During summer, warm weather, ease of travel, and the fresh garden plants all boost my mood and productivity. But it’s only a matter of time before winter arrives.

Fortunately, having grown up in the Great Lakes and Midwest regions, I know what’s coming and can adequately prepare for it. Both body and mind need to be nurtured to survive the icy winds and reach the blooms of spring.

For many vasculitis patients, lower temperatures lead to increased issues, such as muscle stiffness, nerve pain, and fatigue. And that’s in addition to the typical effects of winter, such as dry skin and hair, increased sinus drainage, and chills you can’t shake.

Of course, for anyone with a compromised immune system, the risk of getting sick with routine illnesses is higher in winter. School is in session, which means more pathogens circulating among families and communities. Sometimes it feels futile to avoid it altogether, so I consider myself lucky if I only catch a cold or a mild flu.

In the meantime, I drink herbal teas and cook nutritious meals to keep my body balanced. I also increase my intake of zinc, elderberry, herbal teas, and other home remedies that boost natural immunity without mitigating the effects of my immunosuppressants.

Winter is difficult, but it can also be lovely. Those of us with dogs or kids may understand the frenetic joy of watching little ones scramble around in a thick, fresh carpet of fluffy snow. And there’s nothing quite like witnessing a winter storm from the comfort of my home.

So, on the days when I’m cold and don’t want to move, I encourage myself to chase that serotonin and get on the recumbent bike, lifting up silent gratitude that I’m able to exercise indoors.

On the days when the temperatures drop to an uncomfortable low, I put on a parka and earmuffs and step outside to catch a glimpse of the stars, appreciating the vast wonder of the winter sky and its diamond-studded panorama.

On the days when I just can’t seem to get warm, I don another layer of clothing and wrap my fingers around a mug of tea, knowing that my comfort is within my control.

And on the days when vasculitis feels like the final straw, I remind myself that this too shall pass, and express gratitude for staying in remission so long.

I choose to lean in and enjoy this season of darkness. I can reframe it as a time of nesting, reflection, and growth. The cold weather discomfort is real, but it’s manageable. And the joys of spring will arrive before I know it.

Note: ANCA Vasculitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ANCA Vasculitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ANCA vasculitis.


Gretchen Booth avatar

Gretchen Booth

I find winter to be pretty miserable now even moreso with vasculitis, so thanks for the inspiration!


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