Winter is well underway and the frigid temperatures and lack of sunlight might have us feeling a little down. For those with arthritis and chronic pain, winter can be particularly difficult. Here are eight simple and effective tips to keep your spirits up and increase your energy during the coldest of seasons.
1. Move every day
A sedentary lifestyle can intensify chronic pain, causing the body to become stiff and achy from lack of movement. As some experts say, “motion is lotion.” Try to make movement part of your daily routine and plan activities you can do indoors even when the weather is bad, like walking in a mall, yoga, stretching or dancing to your favorite tunes. During exercise, your body releases chemicals that can improve your mood and make you feel more relaxed. Here are 10 easy-to-remember exercises you can do anywhere. You can also find exercise videos and tips for staying active in the exercise section of flourish.
2. Let the sun shine in!
Lower levels of natural sunlight result in dips in serotonin, the chemical in our body responsible for regulating our emotions. Research has shown that sunlight can help boost our mood, increase vitamin D production, as well as help us sleep better. If you are able, taking a walk outside in sunny weather is a great way to combine exercise with getting beneficial sunlight, but even sitting outdoors for 10-15 minutes can make a difference. You might also want to consider adding more foods with vitamin D into your diet or taking a supplement. Make sure to speak with your doctor first before trying new supplements. You can learn more about vitamin D in our Emerging Treatment and Research resource.
3. Get plenty of ZZZs
Sleep and mental health are closely related. Not getting enough sleep can leave us feeling overtired, edgy and emotional, and makes it much more difficult to cope with the winter blues. For people with arthritis, fatigue and low mood both play a role in the pain cycle. That is, fatigue can contribute to increased pain, which can in turn contribute to a low mood. Or a low mood can increase fatigue, which can worsen our experience of pain. Getting into a regular sleep routine such as retiring at the same time each night or doing a relaxing activity such as reading before bed can help prepare you for a good night’s sleep. Try a soothing activity such as our body scan meditation to promote relaxation and pain relief, or read our article on 10 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep.
4. Eat healthy, nutritious meals
Filling your plate with colourful fruits and vegetables can help you get the nutrients your body needs for optimal health and can make your meal look more appetizing. Help reduce inflammation and control your weight by opting for fish and lean meats, whole grains, beans and nuts as part of a healthy lifestyle. Why not commit to preparing one new recipe every week? Go to our recipes section for some inspiration or consider signing up for a meal kit service (many offer advantageous introductory offers). As well, check out these practical tips to simplify meal prep.
5. Make time for meditation
Take the opportunity this winter season to slow down and introduce relaxation practices such as breathing exercises and meditation into your daily life. Studies have found positive outcomes when meditation is used for improving one’s mental state, coping with illness and enhancing general well-being. There are many books, guided CDs and online videos to help you with the practice of meditation, and many communities offer meditation or mindfulness classes through their community centres, school boards or other organizations. You can also visit our Guided Meditation for Chronic Pain.
6. Laugh it up
Laughing releases endorphins which are linked to a positive mood. It can reduce stress and anxiety, increase pain tolerance and help change the energy within us to one of positivity, strength and motivation. Finding opportunities to laugh is easy: watch a favorite comedy show, listen to a funny stand-up comedian online, or why not try laughter yoga? There are a number of laughter yoga classes and videos offered online for free. Fun fact: 15 minutes of laughing burns up to 40 calories!
7. Do more of what you love
Practice self-care this winter and give yourself some love. Make a list of simple activities that make you happy and commit to doing one every day. Whether you love playing with your kids/grandkids/fur-baby, taking a warm bubble bath, curling up with a good book or listening to a podcast, take time for yourself and enjoy the moment. This will help you maintain a positive attitude. Check out these leisure time life hacks.
8. Stay positive
Remember to celebrate small wins. While you may not be able to do everything because of arthritis, take time to recognize and celebrate small improvements and achievements. Keeping a DONE list (instead or in addition to a TO DO list) can be a fantastic tool for motivation and morale, and a way to track your progress and give yourself a pat on the back.
While many people may struggle with a low mood during the winter, if it’s starting to interfere with your day-to-day life or if it’s becoming more difficult to cope, you might want to consider reaching out to a professional for support. You can talk to your doctor, a social worker, psychologist, or other mental health specialist. You can also access free support online through Wellness Together Canada.