When you think of Winter which words and image are conjured up in your mind? For many, if asked they would answer with images such as the nights drawing in during the early evening, heavy rain lashing against the windows and the sound of the howling wind outside, and those fighting against the constant outbreaks of colds and flu. This myriad of some of the images synonymous with winter, paints a pretty miserable picture, especially when juxtaposed with images of summer such as the bright, warm sunshine, colourful and vibrant flowers and so on. Whereas Winter is seen as a time to dread, Summer is a time where everything feels alive and happy; a time of endless possibilities. Winter is indeed the cruelest and relentless of the seasons.
It is only the start of the autumn and winter seasons, and already, I have heard many people complaining and griping because of the cold, wet weather. For those suffering from chronic pain like me, Winter can also be a difficult time as the freezing temperatures can exponentially increase the amount of pain experienced. In my experience of living with spastic paraparesis (causing stiffness and weakness in the legs) the bitter cold weather and the constant downpour of rain increase the level of stiffness and weakness that I experience, thereby increasing my pain levels. During previous years these increased levels of pain, stiffness and weakness, has left me reliant on my wheelchair for the majority of the time when out of the house.
There are steps that I, and others living with a chronic illness and chronic pain during the winter months. These can include wearing thermals underneath warm clothing to lessen the effects of the cold temperatures on our personal chronic pain. Hot water bottles, warm blankets, and snuggly pyjamas are also fantastic at helping us keep warm when in the safety of our own homes. Although these steps can help us with the physical pain associated with our long-term conditions, they, however, do not lessen the emotional impact that the winter has on our psychological well-being.
Many people experience some form of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a kind of depression associated with the reduced exposure to sunlight. Light therapy which involves sitting in front or beneath a lightbox, as well as more conventional treatments for depression including cognitive behavioural therapy and sometimes antidepressants.
I have talked about positive psychology before in terms of helping cope with living with a long-term health condition. One example of an exercise that is recommended within the field of positive psychology is keeping a gratitude journal. A gratitude journal encourages individuals to write down at least three things that have made them grateful and happy on that particular day. Research suggests that by doing this, it can change the brain’s thought processes and can even result in more favourable thinking patterns. Therefore, to be more positive and happier during the winter months, despite the miserable weather perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the positive aspects of winter, and also to think of the reasons we should love winter.
So what are some of the reasons we should love winter?
The cold and wet weather during the winter months provide the ideal opportunity to stay indoors – this is the same for most people regardless of whether they live with a chronic illness or not. I know for me personally when I tell others that I want nothing more than to stay indoors and lay down is met with surprise and disbelief during the summer. Instead of respecting my wishes, I am barraged with well-meaning encouragement to venture outside for fresh air, which is made to sound like a miracle cure for all my ills. In the winter, on the other hand, friends and family are not surprised or even comment on my love of staying indoors beneath a warm blanket and enjoying a box-set binge, as let’s face it everybody wants nothing more than do the same when the bad weather hits. As well as being not judged for spending so much time indoors, I also feel that during the winter I am more likely not to feel envious or that I have missed out on anything fun. Friends and family are also spending the majority of the time at home in the warm and dry watching the new series of television programmes that tend to start when the weather begins to deteriorate. Recently some of my favourite television programmes have returned to the new Autumn schedule such as Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds.
Winter provides us with the perfect excuse to stay indoors and curl up with a thick blanket and a mug of delicious hot chocolate with marshmallows. It furthermore provides us with the ideal opportunity to enjoy an exciting book; or watch a film that you might never have otherwise watched via Netflix. In other words, winter can provide us with the unique opportunity to bask in the enjoyment of being able to appreciate the little things that give us comfort and joy while also protecting ourselves from the atrocious weather. Whereas summer is all about fast pace and cramming as much fun in as possible, winter is far more relaxed and allows us to savour each moment.
I also love going to bed during the winter months and getting beneath my delectably thick winter duvet. For me, this duvet is comforting, especially when feeling the effects of chronic illness. Our winter wardrobes are also another wonderful aspect of enjoying during the cold and dreary months; to feel snuggly and safe beneath layers of warm layers of clothing such as big thick jumpers, woolly scarves and hats and thick socks when venturing outdoors. I own a pair of Ugg boots which I continuously wear through the autumn and winter as they are so comfortable and also keep my feet incredibly warm and are one piece that is among my favourite items in my wardrobe and boots that I am often complimented on when out which makes me feel good about myself.
A further reason to love winter is the food! Winter food provides comfort during the cold months. Mince pies, apple pies, pumpkin pies and other seasonal treats that appear in the supermarkets are just begging to be served warm with cream or custard. Winter vegetables can be roasted or used as ingredients for bowls of steaming and comforting soups or even baked into delectable pies. Chilly evenings also provides the perfect pretext to enjoy a steaming mug of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and marshmallows or alternatively sprinkles of cocoa powder. And if the weather is keeping you indoors, there is plenty of time to put everything you have learnt from The Great British Bake Off (or other such cookery programmes!) into practice by baking cakes. Assembling a gingerbread house or experimenting with the abundance of seasonal recipes that you have always wanted to try out but never found the time.
Lastly, the most important reason to love the winter season is all the exciting events that occur during this time. Halloween, Bonfire Night and everyone’s favourite Christmas! These events provide excitement and wonder, as well as the opportunity to come together with family and friends whom we may not have seen for some time. It is hard to dislike Bonfire Night for example, as throughout the country beautiful, colourful and vibrant lights are seen decorating the dark night skies. Even if we are out of spoons or too unwell to attend a local fireworks display, it does not mean that we have to miss out on everything, as we can still enjoy firework from the comfort of our own homes, which I often do.
Throughout November and December hangs the air of excitement and wonder as Christmas approaches. Houses, shops and town centres are illuminated with colourful lights and vibrant decorations which looks beautiful and cheery against the dark and dreary winter nights. Furthermore, with Christmas also brings a collection of wonderful food, heart-warming and cheerful family films, television specials, festive events and activities, happy festive music as well as time spent with loved ones exchanging presents.
It is true that with Christmas also brings a lot of activities that can deplete the number of limited spoons but in my opinion, it is worth it for the happiness and the formation of happy memories that Christmas brings.
What are your personal reasons for loving winter? You can contact me via Twitter using @serenebutterfly or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or comment below…