Joint pain isn’t the only thing that makes this time of year difficult for people with psoriatic arthritis. Learn how to tend to your body and mind with these tips.
The winter months can be difficult for anyone, but when you live with a chronic condition like psoriatic arthritis (PsA), it can be especially tough to navigate.
The colder temperatures, darker days, and extra time indoors can make it difficult to manage not only the physical aspects of PsA but the mental health aspects as well.
Living through quite a few brutal Northeast winters has forced me to find ways to care for my joint stiffness and my mental well-being. These are my top tips and tricks for managing life with PsA during the colder months of winter.
Joint discomfort is often the worst first thing in the morning. A great way to handle that joint stiffness is to take a warm shower or bath.
If you are especially achy, you can try a bath with Epsom salts to take the edge off or use a heating pad on the most affected areas, like your knees or lower back, to provide some extra relief.
Once you’re feeling warmed up, try some stretches and gentle movement. Weather permitting, a quick walk outside can really help loosen up your joints and give you a boost of energy from the fresh air. Just be sure to layer up to keep yourself and your joints warm.
If you’re not able to step out, joint-friendly exercises like indoor cycling, bodyweight movement, or yoga are great options.
I know it might sound unappealing to exercise with stiff joints, but the phrase “motion is lotion” is absolutely true for folks living with PsA. The longer you wait to get moving, the worse that stiffness will get. Having a morning movement routine will help not only your body — but your mind as well.
Painful, swollen joints in the hands are common in people with PsA. Wearing gloves with hand warmers, whether battery-powered or disposable, is a great option to keep your joints happier when venturing out in the cold.
In addition to adequately covering your hands, it’s important to bundle up in layers to keep the cold air out.
While it might be tempting to load up on comfort foods and sweets around the holidays, highly processed foods and sugar are common triggers for PsA flares. Being mindful of a balanced diet is key.
That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy a special holiday meal or treat here and there. I personally follow the 80/20 approach, following an anti-inflammatory diet 80% of the time and allowing myself to relax and enjoy the remaining 20%.
Hydration is key for those of us with PsA, especially when it comes to keeping our skin happy and healthy. However, I find it can be tricky to remember in the winter. Without the warm sun and heat, you might feel less thirsty. But hydration is so important for overall health.
If you find yourself less likely to reach for your usual chilled water, you can hydrate with warm teas and broths instead.
Psoriasis flares in the colder months are common due to the dry air and lack of vitamin D exposure. It’s important to prioritize skin care.
Hydration from the inside out is always best, but you can also use a dermatologist-approved scalp oil and body moisturizer for dryness and give your skin an added layer of protection against the harsh winter air.
Humidifiers can also be a helpful addition to avoid dry air in your home.
Chronic fatigue is common in people with psoriatic arthritis, and the shorter daylight hours during winter certainly don’t help. It can be tough to get enough exposure to natural light during this time of year, which can make fatigue worse.
Using a light therapy lamp may bring you many of the same benefits as natural sunlight. I like to use mine first thing in the morning and then again when the sun begins to set. It helps trick my brain into thinking the daylight hours are longer and really makes a difference in my mood and productivity levels.
Depression is another common issue for people living with psoriatic arthritis. Being aware of your mood and overall mental health is especially important during the winter when it’s easier to self-isolate and doing things that help your mental health can feel harder.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s always best to work with a mental health professional. Your doctor may even be able to refer you to one who specializes in working with people living with chronic conditions.
In addition, a great way to stay on top of your mental health is by intentionally scheduling time for things that bring you joy. That could be picking up a new hobby, volunteering, or socializing with friends or family.
Finding a way to have connection and interaction with others (hello, Bezzy PsA friends!) is helpful for combating loneliness and reducing stress.
Stress can be a big culprit for flare-ups, especially when paired with colder weather. It’s important to carve out time for unwinding with self-care.
This can be difficult with the busy holiday season, but taking just a few minutes a day to be in the moment and breathe deeply can really help with stress.
Research suggests gratitude is another mindfulness practice that can be especially beneficial for folks living with chronic conditions. Intentionally writing down the things that make you happy and are going well — rather than always focusing on the negative aspects of your condition — can reduce negative feelings and elevate your overall mood and outlook.
The winter months can definitely take a toll on your physical and mental health. While we aren’t able to avoid the season, we can make choices to help minimize the negative effects this time of year might have on our bodies and minds.
Medically reviewed on December 13, 2022
Have thoughts or suggestions about this article? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author