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Top Tips to Manage Your Chronic Pain in Autumn

Controlling your pain as autumn comes

When the weather changes as autumn arrives, the number of clients at my psychology/hypnotherapy for pain clinics goes up. Many of us believe that colder, damper weather makes chronic pain worse. There is not a great deal of scientific proof that colder weather causes conditions such as rheumatic arthritis, which can lead to chronic pain, but chilly conditions can make pain feel worse. There are physical reasons why this happens. Bonita Libman, a professor of medicine at the University of Vermont thinks she may have an explanation. She says that muscle spasms may be worse in colder weather and this can worsen pain and stiffness. Blood circulation can reduce in the cold, and this can lead to pain, especially in the fingers and toes. 

I see something else going on here. We know how we feel generally can affect how we perceive pain. And as summer fades into memory many of us feel a bit down. And then our chronic pain can feel worse.

So, I am going to assume that pain does seem worse in autumn and have a look at what we can do about it. 

Some basic daily tips to control pain

There are some simple common-sense tips which can help. 

Keep warm

Make yourself as warm as possible from the moment you get up. Start the day with a hot shower and make sure you have clothing to keep you at the optimum temperature, inside and out. The best way to do this is by layering your clothing. And try to avoid fiddly buttons, they are hard to undo if your fingers are stiff with cold.

Avoid germs

Take care of your general physical health. Many conditions which lead to chronic pain can also weaken your immune system. So, make sure you have a flu vaccine and keep away from environments where there are lots of germs if you can. A very simple thing, but often forgotten, is to keep your hands clean, that is how most germs are spread. Take a hand sanitiser when you go on public transport for example.

Meet friends

One word of warning here though. Try to avoid a room full of people with colds but do not isolate yourself. Mood and chronic pain are very closely linked and nothing raises the mood for most of us as much as a good laugh with friends.

Exercise when you can

For many of us the biggest change as we move into winter is that it gets harder to exercise. As the nights draw in it can be difficult to get out after work and we just feel less like going out. This affects everyone across the world.  A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that people with arthritis in Chicago moved 40 percent less in November than June. It does get harder, so for many of us a bit more planning and a bit of willpower is needed to get that exercise so we are still moving.

As it can feel hard to exercise it is worth me explaining why exercise is so important if you suffer from chronic pain.

Exercise will improve the mobility of your joints and strengthen your muscles. This both reduces pain in the here and now and cuts down the risk of future injury which could worsen pain. If you do not exercise do not overdo it at first. This can strain your muscles, put you in more pain and put you off the whole thing. The general advice is to build up slowly to a level of two and a half hours of moderate activity a week (a gentle swim or a brisk walk would be examples of moderate activity). Add to this some muscle building activity. This does not have to be lifting weights, although it can be. Try walking upstairs, doing squats or sit-ups. Twenty minutes a couple of times a week is a good goal to aim at. You can get more details on the NHS website. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/how-to-improve-strength-flexibility/

I always encourage my clients to get out when they can. Fresh air does you good and being out lifts the mood. But of course, some days the weather is cold and wet and you may think that going out will make you feel worse. Devise some things you can do on these days. Perhaps some yoga exercises using a phone app. Or just walking up the stairs a few times. I would also advise that you get some good outdoor clothes and try a walk even if the weather is not to brilliant. You may find the cold autumn air invigorates you.

Also look at your lifestyle and work out when you can get some outdoor exercise done. So, it is tough, but you can still do something. Think about taking a walk at lunchtime rather than sitting at your desk for example. 

Eat well

Watch your diet. Again, this can be harder as the summer leaves us. There is less fresh food about so it is harder to get the vitamins and nutrients you need. I would advise you check with your doctor about what the particular food requirements are for your particular condition. The general advice to eat oily fish and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains will apply to most of us. Try to keep a good colour balance on your plate, that means you are getting a good variety of different nutrients.

A good mood in in autumn

As I work with the mental and emotional effects of chronic pain, I am always especially concerned that we study mood very closely. If you are feeling optimistic and positive you will perceive your pain as less serious. If you are anxious and down it will feel worse. Autumn does provide a challenge for many of us as there are mood-changing things going on around us. Often summer is a time we abandon our hardest work routine, take holidays and get out more. To adjust away from this and back to routine can feel miserable. Often at this time people get very worried about work or face up to the fact they dislike their jobs. If this is you, it might be time to make a change. But it might also be best to wait a while, let your system, your habits and your lifestyle adjust and then see how you feel.

Seasonal affective disorder and pain 

It may be that you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and this will worsen as the light fades. We still do not fully understand what causes SAD, it seems to be the lack of sunlight stops some people producing the amount of serotonin (the ‘happiness hormone’) and this can lead to feelings of depression. As a form of depression, it is especially bad if you have chronic pain. Like all forms of depression, it can make your pain feel worse. 

If you suffer, then think of investing in a full spectrum light. This replicates natural light, and many people find that sitting with this light for an hour or so a day lifts their mood. 

My top tips to improve autumn mood

I have a list of ways to improve autumn mood. 

Here it is:

  • Be positive and enjoy the beauties of autumn. Get on the web and find some beautiful autumn scenery near you and plan a walk there. Welcome the changes of seasons.
  • Plan a social life. Everyone is back from holidays and the kids are back in school. It’s a great time to meet up for a laugh and catch up with mates.
  • Be flexible where you can. If it is a sunny day re-arrange whatever you can to get out and boost your spirits.
  • Develop calm happiness. Listen to a self-hypnosis session to build your self-esteem. Learn deep breathing exercises to control anxiety 
  • Know that you can control your pain and that will control your anxiety about it. Take a look are the resources I offer to help http://www.apaininthemind.co.uk/resources/.. 

I hope I have helped you to go into autumn with a spring in your step and a belief that you can control your pain. If you want more help then contact me and I can help you one to one.

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