RA in Longer Winters

Never in my life have I experienced the amount of snow that has fallen in Wisconsin this winter, and apparently, this is a warm winter for Wisconsin. Coming from Florida, though, any amount of snow is a lot.

But as the snow continues to fall — even in March! — I've noticed a few things about the state of my RA that are both directly and indirectly related to the weather.

I've had more pain days this season

First, and this is obvious: it's cold. I've written a few times about the impact of cold weather on RA, but this time is a little bit different with the length of the cold winters in Wisconsin.

Normally, winter is over by February in Florida, but now, well into March, we are still experiencing the effects of winter (at least in my mind). In Florida, my RA would get worse in the winter, and I'd experience some general reprieve in the warm — and then hot — weather. In Wisconsin, it seems that the cold also affects my joints. I've had more pain days with stiffness, swollen and red joints, and general bloating/malaise.

It's easy to fall into a rut

Second, while I am not working full-time, I am working as a graduate student, holding a TA position and teaching 4 sections, working an hourly job, and taking 3 classes. It's a different type of stress that is equally if not more stressful than working full-time. There's more to keep track of, and it's easy to fall into a rut.

This usually leads me to experience the more emotional problems of RA, including feelings of loneliness (since I have RA so young), brain fog, and frustration (again, why do I have to have this so young?). Especially during the wintertime, stress is higher because universities usually transition to a new semester, and with that comes new responsibilities and commitments that can take away precious self-care time if I'm not careful.

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Extended winters, RA, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

Finally, in Wisconsin, the sunlight takes a deep cut/hiatus. Sunrise is late and sunset is early, often as early as 4 PM. Coming from the land of sunshine... this was quite the adjustment, and it is well known that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can take hold during the short winter days. Compounded with an extended length of winter, the effects of SAD persist.

However, I have found a few remedies from my friends here who have lived in Wisconsin. They actively and routinely take advantage of the sun shining when they can; they take vitamin D supplements (which I am supposed to do anyway with my low vitamin D levels, according to my rheumy); and, they actually try to do things outside. This can include skiing, snow tubing, Nordic walking (which is basically snowshoeing), and outdoor winter classes, where you learn camping skills.

Paying better attention to my body

Winter in Wisconsin is definitely different than Florida, especially when you have RA. But I have learned to adapt and have found myself paying better attention to my body and how it is feeling. If it is cold outside and I feel it in my joints, I use my heating pads and ibuprofen to power through; on those days when I don't feel that pain, I take advantage of the frigid temperatures that I used to fear.

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