Love it or hate it, summer comes every year. I personally love the summer. I’ll take heat over cold any day (I grew up in Winnipeg which is hella cold). I find the heat takes a slightly less toll on my body than freezing temperatures. And though I live in Vancouver now, where winter has more rain than snow and extreme colds, the changes in the barometric pressure are never fun for my body either. All that said, I know a ton of people who prefer winter over summer, because they don’t like being hot and/or their illness symptoms worsen in the heat (which I’ll admit when it’s really hot, mine aren’t superb either). Even without illness, we need to prioritize staying healthy in the summer. And though summer is coming to an end, any time left does need us to consider a few things.
The first thing I do is dress appropriately. I try to go for outfits that are cooling, regardless of whether I’m working or lazing about. Probably most importantly in how I dress for the summer is always having a hat on (ball cap or brimmed hat) while I’m outside and always having sunglasses. That way I can help prevent heat stroke, symptom flare ups, and my eye health. Also, it requires basically no effort to grab my hat and sunglasses when I go out. I’m always a little shocked when other people aren’t wearing them to be honest.
Second, I put on a lot of sunscreen – and reapply as needed. I typically use SPF50 on my face (it’s built into my moisturizer) and SPF30 on my body. I’d rather use “too much” (because that’s not actually a thing) than not enough. Not to mention skin cancer doesn’t sound fun, and I once read that being sun burnt even once in your life greatly increases your risk of melanoma.
Third, I stay hydrated. I always have a water bottle with me. I always make sure there is a bunch of ice in it as well (it’s also an insulated water bottle which helps). I drink a ton of water while working and even just in my apartment. Constantly drinking water because, well, we know that water has a ton of health benefits, plus dehydration is not going to help me feel physically or mentally well.
Fourth, I try to make sure my sleep is as good as possible. I don’t have A/C currently and it gets hot. So I keep windows open, fan on when necessary – even if that means I have to wear earplugs to bed. I have an east facing bedroom window, and while I do need to invest in some blackout blinds, I often wear a sleep mask to bed so that the light doesn’t wake me up. I also ditch most of the blankets and sleep under just a top sheet to try to keep my body temperature down.
Finally, I still get all my movement in. There is a tendency to want to avoid exercise due to heat (trust me, I know firsthand I’m less inspired to workout when it’s hot). I do still make it a priority. If I go for a walk, it’s earlier in the day or later in the day and I try to stick to the shade. My strength training routine is done with a fan blowing at me (though I’m tempted to invest in a gym membership again just to have a cool workout facility), and I do yoga (also with the fan blowing at me). And while I do vinyasa and yin, I find that yin can be a bit better in the heat because you hold poses longer.
So, that sums up how I stay healthy in the summer. What do you do?
Okay, this might seem simple, but sometimes I forget to hydrate enough. Last year I was on an app that had us do a 30 day challenge, part of which was drinking 8 glasses of water a day. I honestly felt so great that whole punch (despite having to pee all the time). Unfortunately, I have not been able to keep up the habit. It’s not that I don’t want to or think it’s important, it’s that for some reason it’s a little harder than I thought it would be (this reminds me that I might do a post on habit forming in the future). What I have noticed for myself is that when I’m working, especially from home, I drink a lot of water. One glass per client, plus probably 2 extra on top of that. So on days where I have 4 clients, that ends up being at least 6 glasses of water. In the office, it’s close to the same, but perhaps a little less. The less I work, the less I drink water…
Except for when I go for a hike, walk, or to the beach. The summer is my favourite time of year. Yes there are some downsides to the weather being hot, but I do love outdoor activities. And I normally do pretty well at staying hydrated. I always bring a water bottle, though I’ll admit sometimes I should probably bring 2, and it’s always empty by the time I’ve returned home. I’m also always happy to get a glass of water at a restaurant, or buy a bottled water at a convenience store if I’ve run out and need more.
While water is 100% important for every human, I think it’s additionally important for Chronic Pain/Illness Warriors. Research suggests that staying hydrated can improve our joint health and functioning by increasing flexibility and lubrication within the joints (could’ve helped the Tin Man). It also has been shown to remove toxins in the body, and toxins are often the source of inflammation. Less inflammation = less pain. Added benefits are improved mood (because being dehydrated can make us angry, depressed and tense – I’ve definitely experience this before, have you?); and it can aid in weight loss, if you have that goal. We know that the mind and body are connected, so when we feel emotions like sadness, anger, and anxiety we tend to feel more pain. When we feel more pain we get into these states easier (so imagine being dehydrated as well).
Here are some ways I make sure I’m staying hydrated:
I always have a full glass of water within arms reach. As soon as the glass is empty (or low) I fill it up, with some ice cubes and just carry it from room to room with me throughout the day.
I bring a water bottle with me as often as possible. I take it to work, on walks, etc. Again, having it near means I’m more likely to drink it.
I order a glass of water at the restaurant. Even if I’m also ordering another drink. Nothing else really hydrates us, so while I’m happy to have a beer or a soda or coffee, etc. that is really for the flavour, socializing experience, etc. I need to have water for the hydration.
Also, side note PSA, if you have a dog and you’re taking him or her for a walk, please, please bring one of those doggy water bottles for them. If you need to be hydrated, they do too!
Enjoy the rest of your summer and keep making the most of it!
Long title, I know. But nonetheless I thought I’d share some of my tips with you, plus a few other evidence-based ones I found online as I’m trying to get through this. I’m writing this exactly one week before it will be published so fingers crossed that it’s over by the time you’re reading it, but if not, then I’ll just have to accept it as it is. My flare is likely caused by a few things. First, I recently moved and moving is stressful (even a relatively easy move like I had) and stress can cause a flare. Second, I moved from a dry climate in the interior of British Columbia to the wet, lower mainland of BC. I always notice my symptoms, especially pain gets worse when it rains… but then I knowingly moved to a rainy climate (*face palm*). All jokes aside, my symptoms are increased pain, increased fatigue, really bad jaw pain, my left foot is super veiny and sore (my calf is fine though so unlikely anything super serious). How the heck can I manage all of this?
Acceptance. Yes, I know some of you are rolling your eyes or saying that this is ridiculous or unlikely to work. But I find it does. I accept that my pain is here, while knowing that the intensity changes hour by hour, sometimes even minute by minute, and I know that when my flare is over I’ll go back to baseline. Acceptance is helpful. I’ve been doing body scans and other mindfulness activities to help with the acceptance, but honestly just acknowledging my experience without getting wrapped up in it is helpful. Check out this acceptance practice.
Exercise, Movement and Stretching. If you read this blog regularly you know that I like to exercise. And I still pace myself by trying to stay consistent with what I do. I definitely increase my stretching during flares. Particularly I focus on the areas that seem to hurt or need it the most. For example, my jaw is the worst today as I write this, and I’ve made sure to do jaw stretches throughout the day. For more on jaw pain specifically, check out this podcast episode with Dr. Shirazi.
Warm Baths. I LOVE my baths. I literally take a bath 4-5x a week in the winter months. And with the rain, I’m definitely needing them. They help relax my muscles, keep me warm, and are very relaxing. Trust me when I say I could never (and would never) live in an apartment without a bathtub. Knowing what is vital to your self-care is essential to dealing with a flare. Check out this podcast episode on it.
Dressing Warmly and in Layers. Vancouver, if you’ve never been, is a city where everyone dresses in layers. It will likely rain at some point during the day, though you never know exactly when. It could also start off cool and warm up, or vice versa. So I’ve been making sure to put on 3 layers when I go out, and have a pair of mittens on me. I need to remember a hat and/or an umbrella, but I’m working on it!
Hydration. I tend to drink a lot of water. Admittedly more when I’m working. Staying on top of my water intake is so important to managing my flares and really my health! I’m trying to drink 5 full glasses of water a day minimum. I basically keep a glass of water next to me all day and every time it’s empty, I refill it. Listen to my podcast conversation with Beau Berman about gut health and how important drinking water is to him.
Omega-3’s and Vitamin D. I typically try to get these from the foods I eat. Lots of fish mostly (rich in both), as well as mushrooms, spinach, avocado and tofu and really a variety of others foods are rich in vitamin D. These are really important for reducing inflammation naturally and honestly are just really good for you! Also, Vitamin D is a way to combat with the “winter blues” (which I often get) and the more severe, Seasonal Affective Disorder.
So those are the 6 things that I am doing, but what are the 5 things that I’m not but probably should be?
Acupuncture. This is actually an evidence-based and recommended treatment for chronic pain. I’ve had it in the past and I’m hoping to start back up with bi-monthly sessions next month. Listen to the podcast episode on recommended treatments for chronic pain for more info.
Massage. I miss getting massages. It’s been nearly a year since I had one, and this is also a service I used to get bi-monthly. I’ll likely also start these back up soon as well. Clearly I need to. The benefits of massage can be heard in the podcast episode with Danielle Potvin.
NSAIDs. I’m not a fan of these drugs to be honest. They can cause stomach problems when on them long term. I’ve drastically cut back on them and only take them to supplement the more natural medications I take (i.e., CBD). If you’re aware of the risks and find them helpful then this can be a helpful solution.
Natural supplements. The only natural supplement I currently take is magnesium bis-glycinate which is a muscle relaxant (and I mainly use it when I’m menstruating). Other recommended supplements are fish oil, ginger (which I sometimes have in food and/or tea), turmeric (which I sometimes have in tea), and gingko. These are definitely worth checking out to use in addition to some of the other suggestions.
Limit Stress. Oh I can’t wait until I’m passed the stress of the move and starting up new counselling practices. The truth is there is always some kind of stress in our lives and it really comes down to how we manage stress. I typically do a good job with mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and relaxation practices. So this might just be a reminder to do a bit more of that. And also, if you are able to avoid stress then that’s a good plan (I do not plan on moving again for quite some time!).
So that’s it! 11 ways in total to manage a flare. Keep making the most of it everyone!
I will start off by saying that a “top 10” is no way a comprehensive list, because there are lots of ways you can improve your health (or at least keep it at base line) when you have a chronic illness. A lot of this I’ve learned through my own trial-and-error, through my studies and work in psychology/psychotherapy, and from conversations with other Spoonies and healthcare professionals. So, this is basically my Top 10 list, and I’m hoping you can pull a few things out of it if you haven’t been doing these already. I’m also going to link some of my blog posts and podcast episodes if you want to have a deeper dive into these topics. Also, I couldn’t determine an order for these, so they are not necessarily in order of importance (assuming there is one)!
Eating healthy. This is so important and often overlooked. Eating food that is organic and free-range is ideal, though if you’re like me this might not be affordable. If that’s the case, throw in some of that where you can and otherwise focus on the food groups, especially lots of green veggies. Limit your red meats, and of course limit any food that makes your symptoms worse (for some people that’s gluten or dairy). Be open to trying out different diets (Paleo, Keto) or fasting – but always consult with your healthcare professionals first. Check out this blog post on eating healthy, and this podcast episode on living with allergies.
Drink lots of water. 6-8 cups a day is ideal. I’m currently doing a challenge through Shape and Foster and part of that challenge is drinking 1.5L of water per day. Honestly, some days I really struggle but I also notice that the days I drink that much water, I drink less other stuff (that’s not healthy) and I feel the best. Water is important for our overall health and can’t be overlooked! I’ve got a blog post about it, and it is an essential of health which I discussed on the podcast.
Take your meds! Medication management can be super annoying but you’re being prescribed them for a reason, and there is typically a lot of science around them. I sometimes forget to take my meds (not going to lie) but again, I do feel best when I take them as prescribed. This doesn’t just go for Western medication either, try out some Eastern ones (head over to a naturopath, chiropractor, or other practitioner) to get some holistic care going. I’ve got a blog post about health management, and a podcast about holistic options.
Sleep hygiene. It’s so important for our physical (and mental) health to get a good sleep. Our bodies need to feel energized and rested when we wake up. Spoonies definitely have extra challenges with sleep. I often toss and turn because I’m never comfortable. However, doing proper sleep hygiene can at least minimize some of these problems and get your a better sleep. When I have proper sleep hygiene, I notice a 50-80% improvement in my sleep! No jokes! Check out the blog post and podcast episode for more.
Exercise. Yes, exercise definitely helps with pain reduction, and can increase things like mobility. There is a ton of science behind it. That being said, you have to be careful not to go over your limits (i.e., just push yourself to your edge but not beyond it) because you don’t want to hurt yourself. Low impact is recommended for chronic illness (walking, swimming, etc). If you’re not exercising, then just experiment with small amounts and gradually work your way up. This is another area that it is important to consult with a professional on. I do an exercise vlog post every 3 weeks, and I did a full podcast episode on exercise too.
Spend some time outdoors. Interestingly I just did a post on this last week that got very few views despite the fact that there is again science supporting how much this can benefit both our physical and mental health. Step away from the city if you can, even if just a few hours. Take the opportunity to breathe in fresh air. Tie it into exercise by going for a walk. Tie it in to stress reduction and just let yourself be. Though I don’t have an episode specifically about this, there is a podcast on holistic approaches that ties in nicely.
Reduce your stress. Being calm, and having as little stress as possible (which I get it, sometimes just having a chronic illness is stressful!) is so important. Stress is a common cause of flares in many autoimmune diseases and in generally, always manifests into nasty physical ailments of one kind or another. This is a good reason to learn some mindfulness skills (which I do a vlog post on once a month). I did a whole podcast episode on how stress and anxiety manifest in the body as well – find it here.
Get involved in your care. This often means we have to be our own advocates for our health. That can include being a little “pushy” with our doctors (I mean it’s ridiculous that we have to sometimes but medical gaslighting is a huge problem). It also means that you may have to create a healthcare team for yourself. I’ve found this to be extremely beneficial for me. For more on getting involved check out this blog post and this podcast episode.
Self-care. There are 5-6 dimensions of self-care (depending on who you ask) and physical self-care is one of them. A lot of the things from this list apply to physical self-care, but you can also add a lot more, depending on what you like – I like Epsom salt baths! I also mentioned that challenge with Shape & Foster earlier which this month is putting an emphasis on physical self-care. Hear more about them on the podcast. I do monthly premium blog posts for self-care which you can sign up for here.
Goal setting. No one can be expected to make any changes to any part of their life – including the physical aspects – overnight. That’s why setting goals can be really helpful. If you’re not currently exercising, then committing to 3 1/2 hour walks per week might a good place to start. Or increasing your veggie intake four times a week. Or spending time outdoors once a week. Whatever it is, make a plan and make it one that is challenging and yet you can stick to. I recently did a blog post on goal setting. This is the podcast episode it ties most nicely in with.
Okay, this was a longer post than normal but I hope you have a few takeaways! Keep making the most of it everyone!