Chronic Illness and Winter Blues: Find your 'Hygge'

 

Like a lot of people with fibromyalgia, I have always detested winter. Not only is everything dead or dying, grey, bare, overcast and dark, the cold often exacerbates my fatigue and pain, and increases my chances of experiencing one of those odd cluster of symptoms like painful phantom itching. Winter clothes hurt my skin and I feel even less motivated to go out.

This year has been a bit different. Granted part of it is that I’ve pulled out of the multi-year flare-up or post-viral fatigue that kept me bedridden most of the time. But I think some of it can be attributed to hygge.

I began hearing about hygge a few years ago, first from my SO, a near magical sentiment that began in Scandinavian countries.  A Danish word, hygge refers to an attitude quite different from mine about the cold, dark months.  The word translates loosely to “cozy,” and encapsulates a love of nature, the cold, friends and family, and all things winter.

 

 Finding your hygge spirit can be as simple as a warm fire, a cup of coffee, and a treat.

Finding your hygge spirit can be as simple as a warm fire, a cup of coffee, and a treat.

Here is some of what I have tried in order to achieve hygge.

  1. Enjoy friends and family!  Nothing has kept me positive like surrounding myself with laughter.  When I am physically able, I have spent more time at casual events, attending a new pub or bar with my friends and trying new cocktails.
  2. Hot drinks!  For my everyday strong hot coffee needs, I have a Nespresso Vertuoline Espresso and Coffee Maker , which I mostly use to make good coffee in the winter at the odd times of day I want it (decaf is my friend) without smelling up the whole sleeping house. This is my favorite hot chocolate.  It’s made with real milk, which makes a big difference to the “drinking chocolate” flavor, but it’s also not as easy as just throwing a packet and some water in.  Lately I’ve had the energy to get out and have enjoyed finding coffeehouses to hang out with as long as my back can take being up.  Bonus if the coffeehouse has a fireplace, that’s two hygge in one, three if your loved ones are there!

Another hot drink I enjoyed making recently was Hot Buttered Rum.  There’s tons of recipes on the web; I used one from foodnetwork.com.  I had always wanted to try it, since I was a little girl and it showed up in the mysteries I would read constantly.  It’s very very very sweet, but it’s also buttery goodness; the spices are delicious and make the drink feel special.  I might consider making it again with less brown sugar.

Along with hot drinks, board games and card games like Mille Borne are very hygge, but my SO isn’t crazy about participating, so often it’s movies and television.

3. Electric Blankets!  I find the cold most enjoyable when I’m avoiding it!  I can’t find an electric blanket that isn’t either lumpy or attracts dog hair like mad, but I make do.  With a slightly chilly nose and warm and toasty toes I feel like I’m not fighting the cold, but living together with it.

4. Hot Baths!  This depends on your tolerance for heat, as many with fibromyalgia are heat intolerant.  This is not the case with me.  While you will not single-handedly combat severe fatigue with a hot bath I still recommend my strategy: I partake several times a day (moving from bath tub to sunshine in the summer like a pasty sea lion).    Make the baths special: keep candles (so hygge!) next to the bathtub.  I have to be a little careful about chemical sensitivity but depending on your tolerance you may be able to use natural oils, or the fun Lush bath bombs.  If your tub is big enough, why not invite a friend?

5.  Hot, cozy food!  You know this one: what’s better than comfort food in the cold weather?  Chili (the smell of cold and chili spices takes me back to my childhood), your favorite hot soups and stews…I find that dishes with hot tomato in them are very hygge.  I’ll post some of my favorites soon, but here’s my “I feel like crap, it’s cold, and I have to eat” recipe: Put a whole chicken in a pressure cooker with 2 cups of water and an entire bottle of Herdez salsa.  Cook for 25 minutes on natural release.  You can even cook from frozen if you add some time.  Chicken salsa soup!  If you eat leftovers, much of the moisture will absorb so you may need to add chicken broth or more salsa.  My Instant Pot has come to save my life.

6.  Writing!  Okay this might be a more controversial one, but writing seems so hygge to me!  Because of the stress on my neck, back, and shoulders, of sitting at a desk or table, I write in my recliner, feet up, under a soft blanket, with my animals and SO by me, a cup of coffee or tea on the adjacent table.  The most hygge is a fresh new notebook with just the right paper and a good pen.

So far I’ve had a greater enjoyment of the season, which is great!  No one wants to feel that six months of the year are lost to SAD.  Most things I consider hygge are soothing to my fibromyalgia, too.  What do YOU do that leads to cozy enjoyment during the fall and winter?