Banishing The Winter Blues – Chronic Illness-Friendly Recommendations [AD]

Pippa stood outdoors and smiling, wearing navy blue winter coat, lilac jumper and pale pink bobble hat. Park visible in back (rather flooded with water at the time!).

AD – This post is sponsored by BetterYou*. Links marked with * are affiliate links, and you can use code LIFEOFPIPPA for 15% off your order. All opinions are my own. Always consult a medical professional before making changes to your medication or condition management, gang!

Oh January. The Monday-est of months. The blank pages of a brand new year don’t seem quite so appealing when they’ve been soaked through by drizzle in the middle of a global pandemic, hey?

The colder months feel so much easier to survive when you have things to look forward to, and fortunately the festive season tends to give us plenty to feel contented with. However, once the festivities are out of the way for another year, the looming months of cold and dullness before the days become lighter again can seem infinitely more difficult to bear. But fear not, friends. We’re going to do our best to change this narrative around.

Now, I know as well as you do that there’s a wealth of well-intentioned information out there on the internet and it would be quick and easy to find hundreds of posts discussing how to tackle the Winter Blues. However, as with most information you’ll find on mainstream sites and in the media, the advice shared often just doesn’t feel inclusive for chronically ill people.

If you try and tell me that the solution to feeling low at this time of year is for me to get outside more, exercise regularly, and book a costly private therapist… well, at least you’ll have given me a chuckle. Although I’m sure these suggestions are coming from a good place, there are dozens of invisible barriers that can make these things more difficult or impossible for those with long-term health conditions.

Because of this, my mission today is to share three of my own recommendations for dealing with these dreaded seasonal blues. They’ve all come from my own lived experiences, so my hope is that they may feel more accessible for other chronically ill folk as well.

  1. Keep Warm

First things first, let me express solidarity to every person with temperature regulation issues living in the UK. Even a slight drop in humidity or a gradual change in the seasons can cause difficult and painful effects on the body, often completely unpredictably and for reasons modern medicine is still yet to fully understand.

Some people with chronic illnesses find they feel too warm all the time, but something I’ve talked about recently online is my experiences with cold sensitivity and the impact this can have on my health and wellbeing. Once I feel cold, it’s as though I’ve been unplugged from a battery. My muscles and joints seize up, my movements slow down, I struggle to form coherent thoughts, and even my eyes and ears seem to function at a reduced level. Keeping warm is essential to maintaining homeostasis in my body… something which obviously becomes more challenging during the colder winter months, both physically and mentally.

Therefore, my first tip is simply to keep as warm as you can. It would be naïve to suggest blasting the heating without acknowledging that the financial burden of this might not be possible for those living on a reduced income: an appalling percentage of people living in poverty are disabled and struggle with paying the bills. For those in this situation, I’d highly recommend looking into Winter Fuel Payments and Scope’s online advice for managing gas and electricity costs.

However, my other tips for keeping warm include layering up and investing in thermal clothing (Heat Holders are my favourite cost-effective brand in this area), regularly consuming hot drinks at home, wearing thick socks and fingerless gloves when going about your day, and never ruling out an emergency blast of the hairdryer over your body if you’re really struggling. Think of it as a human defrosting session, if you will.

  1. Consider Vitamin D

In the past, Vitamin D was something of an abstract concept in my head… one of those things you vaguely know is good for you and that you should probably be taking, but not yet having enough of a call to action to actually find out more. However, after a couple of years of taking Vitamin D in various forms, I can only say thank goodness that I listened to the experts.

Vitamin D plays a huge role in our health*. It’s vital for the absorption of calcium in the body and sustaining regular levels in our bloodstream, it strengthens our immune system, and it helps us to maintain muscle function as well as strong bones and teeth. Therefore, a Vitamin D deficiency can cause widespread symptoms including increased fatigue, more frequent coughs and colds, poor muscle and bone health, and most notably here… low mood.

Given that our main source of Vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight on the skin, you can immediately see why this becomes more of a problem during the colder months. Not only are we exposed to less sunlight, we generally spend less time outdoors as well. And for chronically ill people who face additional barriers to spending time outside, such as the physical exertion required to leave the house and the debilitating impact of sensory issues this can involve, the problem is particularly profound. I personally think that us chronically ill folk who might benefit the most from Vitamin D exposure are actually the people who are naturally exposed to it the least.

Pippa’s hand holding BetterYous DLux 4000 Vitamin D Oral Spray in original green and white packaging. Peppermint flavour! Grey blanket visible in background.As such, I consider it hugely important to supplement Vitamin D… and I want to highlight that you can do so in an affordable and environmentally conscious way. A few years ago, I was taking Vitamin D supplements in tablet form: resentful at having to add even more bottles and pills to my daily cocktail. However, over the last year I’ve moved to BetterYou’s Intra-Oral Sprays* and I’ve never looked back. I’m already a big fan of their Vegan Vitamin D Spray*, all the more so for it being unflavoured and suitable for my picky palette, but I’ve also just given in to temptation and ordered myself their DLux 3000 Vitamin D Oral Spray* in peppermint flavour to try. It can be taken at any time of the day and doesn’t even have to be combined with food or water. One spray of your Vitamin D dosage per day, and you’re good to go.

You may have seen in a blog post from last year that I’m quite the fan of BetterYou. A Yorkshire-based brand, their organisation is innovative, ethical, and socially-conscious from metaphorical head-to-toe. They provide game-changing products at affordable prices, and one of the best things of all is their commitment to environmental sustainability. BetterYou’s planet friendly solutions* include bottles made from recycled ocean and household waste, sprays made from a carbon-negative (yes, carbon-negative!) plant-based derivative, cartons made of material from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests and other controlled sources… the list goes on.

Personally, I feel it’s so important to throw your support behind organisations going out of their way to operate responsibly and who make it easier for us as individuals to take action too. If you haven’t already, I’d strongly encourage you to get involved with their Better Planet Project and sign their Plastic Petition* too, campaigning for local authorities to create a unified waste plastic collection/recycling programme in the UK.

Vitamin D isn’t a magical substance that’ll immediately transform your mood and make the world seem full of rainbows and unicorns as soon as it hits your system. For me, though, I’ve genuinely felt a difference in mood since I started taking the supplements. I’m sure there’s a psychological element of just knowing that by supplementing Vitamin D I’m taking steps to look after my wellbeing, but I really do feel more resilient from doing so over the longer term. You can find out more about BetterYou’s Vitamin D sprays and try them for yourself here*.

  1. Communicate

Hear me out with this one. I know that ‘just talk to people!!!’ can seem like a bit of a throwaway piece of advice, a solution automatically stamped onto every single problem under the face of the Earth and hailed as a miraculous cure to all of life’s difficulties. However, I also know that actually initiating conversations and speaking about what you’re going through time isn’t straightforward for everybody.

So many of us chronically ill folk have been squashing down our true emotions for years, because we’ve been conditioned to believe that our feelings aren’t valid. After all, internalising our negative emotions rather than voicing them is sometimes what it takes to stay afloat in this ableist world we live in. It’s not right, not at all, but it’s what happens. And believe me when I say I know how daunting it can feel to admit that you’re struggling.

On the one hand, if you’re having a tough time and you do feel able to talk about it, I’d strongly echo recommendations to speak to a trained professional about your mental health. You can find a range of helplines on this NHS page, and it’s worth noting that many of these services are contactable in various ways. Even if you don’t feel well enough to speak on the phone, there may be free text or online chat options available too. If you struggle with brain-fog, you may even find it helpful to make some notes for yourself in advance, to make sure you’re communicating exactly what you want to say.

You may also find it helpful to speak to friends or family about how you’re feeling… or not about how you’re feeling. Communication definitely isn’t my strong suit when I’m struggling, and I totally appreciate that retreating into yourself can feel like the more appealing option when you’re feeling low. However, I also know that simply the act of speaking with others can help you to cope. Even if you don’t feel like talking about what’s really on your mind, chatting about trivial things or utter rubbish with your favourite people can make more of a difference than perhaps you realise. It’s worth the exertion, so do reach out if you can. Please don’t feel as though you have to deal with things all on your own.

~

Everybody is unique and everybody will have their own coping mechanisms that work best for them, but I really hope you find some of these tips and tricks helpful. And if you’ve clicked on to this post because you’re struggling at the moment, my thoughts are with you. I hope you know that things won’t feel like this forever. Take it one thing at a time, and I have every faith that better days will come.

In the meantime, you’ll find me wearing approximately 387483 layers of clothing, Vitamin D Spray in hand, drinking ALL the tea whilst initiating an in-depth discussion about that episode of Dance Moms where Cathy whacked Abby Lee with a designer handbag. Anyone care to join me?

Thanks again to BetterYou* for sponsoring this post! Head to their website to find out more about their sustainability efforts* and shop their products*, and use code LIFEOFPIPPA for 15% off your order!

5 thoughts on “Banishing The Winter Blues – Chronic Illness-Friendly Recommendations [AD]”

  1. Ah, yes, it can be frustrating to hear all that winter advice when you live with chronic illness – how much I would LOVE to spend time outdoors exercising, if only I could!

    You’ve got some great, down-to-earth advice here. On #3 especially, I find that my instinct when I am feeling down is to isolate but when I do talk to a friend or text with a family member or somehow connect with another person, I feel so much better! It’s such a spiritual lift top feel connected to other people, even when it seems to go against when we want to do.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Sue

    Book By Book

    Reply
  2. Note that staying warm is also key for those suffering with anxiety and if they feel an oncoming panic attack. And not just warm but preferably a higher level then normal warmth. It helps to settle down the autonomic nervous system and reduce anxiety and allow all of Pippas other suggestions to take place :).

    Reply
  3. I can really identify with the getting too cold thing. When I first got lyme it was really bad, even on warm days just a little wind would chill me and i’d feel it in my chest, and would just shut down physically.

    It really limited me going out. Everyone else would be saying ‘oh it’s such a beautiful day’ and i’d be sitting there in a jacket and beanie feeling cold. Then i’d start sweating heaps but still feel cold. I’m glad that as i’ve dealt with the infections and got healthier that it isn’t an issue anymore, and can go outside alot more.

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