5 Tips for Thriving in Winter with a Chronic Illness

  • By Miles Oliver
  • 9 January 2023
  • 5 minute read
5 Tips for Thriving in Winter with a Chronic Illness | The Health Sessions

This article is written by Miles Oliver. 

Your experience living with a chronic illness often differs each season. Winter, in particular, presents unique challenges. For example, finding the energy to do things in cold weather can be challenging. The cold might also make physical pain worse. And it can be difficult to keep your mental health and emotional wellness in a positive place.

Chronic illnesses are challenging enough. Don’t let winter be the reason yours gets even more brutal to live with. The following tips can help you thrive in the winter despite living with a chronic illness.

1. Don’t be afraid to pick up an outdoor hobby

The cold alone makes spending time outdoors a last resort for many during the winter. And if you’re living with a chronic illness connected to your mobility, respiratory function, or skin health, the cold weather can cause symptom flare-ups that hurt these things.

Still, you mustn’t hide from outside during winter. Your mind and body need time in nature, sunshine, and fresh air, just like they do in the spring and summer. Consider picking up a hobby that’s outdoor-related during the winter.

Gardening, for example, is a great low-impact activity during the winter. So is winter photography. You could also try camping, hiking, nature walks or ice-fishing for yellow perch or rainbow trout.

There are enough outdoor hobbies to choose from that no chronic illness will prevent you from enjoying the outdoors during this time.

5 Tips for Thriving in Winter with a Chronic Illness
Photo by DA Capture via pexels.com

2. Continue to socialize

Chronic illnesses make you more at risk for loneliness. First, you isolate yourself because of the physical pain. Then you’re even more down because you want to get out there, but you just can’t physically. The next thing you know, you’re in this vicious cycle of isolation and loneliness.

Add winter’s short days, cold nights, and dreary weather, and you seldom see the outside world during this season. But fighting the urge to isolate is critical. Bring whatever you need to keep your chronic illness in check and make it a point to socialize.

You could start with dates with a new love interest or your significant other. Have fun at home by playing board games, singing karaoke or cooking a nourishing meal together. Or even better, layer up to beat the cold, and try one of these cheap date night ideas:

  • Go to a concert in the park
  • Experience a local nature trail
  • Visit a nearby botanical garden
  • Get up or stay up and watch the sunrise or sunset
  • Try a winter-friendly hike at a state or national park

Continue to socialize to stay connected to those who can support you during tough winter days.

3. Fuel your body with nutritious food

Poor nutrition is one of the critical lifestyle risks for chronic disease. Not only can poor nutrition be the reason you develop a chronic illness, but it also makes an existing chronic illness worse. We assume this is because what you put in your body affects how it functions.

It’s easy to cuddle up with comfort food during the winter, whether it be mac and cheese, pizza, chicken fried steak, or something else layered in fat and laced with sugar. As good as these foods are, they aren’t the nutritious, healthy options a body with a chronic illness needs.

Instead, fuel your body with nutritious food all winter long. This means eating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, good carbs, and healthy fats. Give your body the nourishment it needs to maintain a healthy weight, good blood pressure, a healthy immune system, and well-functioning organs.

5 Tips for Thriving in Winter with a Chronic Illness
Photo by DA Capture via pexels.com

4. Move your body in ways you’re comfortable with

Chronic illnesses can be so mentally and physically taxing that physical activity is nearly impossible. And some days, your disease will keep you in bed, especially during the rainy, cold days of winter.

But no matter the chronic illness you’re living with, your body and mind need movement. Regular physical activity boosts mood and energy levels and relieves stress. It also keeps your body in shape and functioning well internally.

Find an exercise routine you’re comfortable with. Make sure it’s one you know you can stay consistent with considering your chronic illness, and one fit for winter. This could be:

  • Sit-down yoga
  • An at-home workout
  • Elliptical or stationary bike
  • Low-impact walks in the morning
  • Indoor swimming or water aerobics

5. Nurture your relationship with yourself

The nature of chronic illnesses makes those living with them more susceptible to mental health challenges. For example, when you’re in constant pain and have yet to find a routine that helps you with your symptoms, it can trigger depression.

For whatever reason, winter can ignite what’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression that arises with the changes in seasons. So, not only might you have to navigate depression onset by your struggles with your chronic illness, you may have to battle depression onset by winter.

Nurturing your relationship with yourself can help you keep your mental health in a good place as you navigate your chronic illness. Even if you have to spend the majority of your time inside, work on your relationship with yourself by:

  • Reciting positive affirmations daily
  • Learning to meditate and be present
  • Seeing a therapist that’s familiar with your chronic illness
  • Practicing sincere gratitude, especially when you’re symptoms are flaring
  • Getting the rest you need to reset from all the ways chronic conditions can make you tired
  • Not letting the pain from your chronic disease stop you from daily responsibilities if it doesn’t have to.

Many people living with varying chronic illnesses wouldn’t tag winter as their favorite season. The tips above may not magically change these people’s minds, but they will make it easier to thrive during the winter months with a chronic illness.

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