Surviving Winter with Raynaud’s

a holly bush covered in snow

I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s phenomenon in November.  Raynaud’s is a circulatory disorder in your hands and/or feet.  Cold or stress can cause you to lose circulation.  Your hands and feet will become numb and discolored.  When circulation does return, it is typically accompanied by pain.

I had symptoms for about two years.  When the symptoms started to interfere with my writing, I finally decided to go to the doctor.

Since I have a milder version of the phenomenon, treatment primarily involves lifestyle changes to decrease my symptoms.  This winter is my first winter since my diagnosis.  Cold is one of the main triggers of symptoms.  As a productivity writer, I have been researching hacks for surviving and maybe even enjoying winter.

A Little Background on Raynaud’s

Raynaud’s (pronounced Ray- noze) phenomenon was first described in 1862 by Maurice Raynaud, a French physician.  There are two forms: a primary idiopathic (meaning of unknown cause) form as well as a secondary form which is a result of some other condition.  In my case, I also have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) which can contribute to Raynaud’s.

Despite being described over 150 years ago, a cause for Raynaud’s still eludes scientists.  The symptoms are spasms in the blood vessels in your hands or feet which result in a diminished blood supply to these extremities.   Hands and/or feet turn white or blue as a result.  Cold, stress, and repetitive actions involving your hands are the primary triggers for symptoms.

Numbness and pain after circulation returns are often side effects on an attack.  The initial treatment for an attack is improving your blood supply by warming your digits.   Long term prevention involves treating stress, limiting exposure to cold and other inducers and medication if the symptoms become debilitating.

trees covered in snow

I love going for a walk after the first snowfall.

Hacks For Surviving Winter With Raynaud’s

#1.  Improve your stress management system.

For me, this process is two-fold.  First, I take the time to maintain my current productivity system even when I am super busy.  It’s easy to not take the time to keep write things down when your hands are hurting or it will be taking time away from a project.  However, maintaining my inboxes (digital and paper) and conducting scheduled reviews means that I can rest easy. I know that I am not forgetting anything.

Second, I am trying live in the present through meditation.   The meditation practice that I am following is called mindfulness.  For a good introduction to mindfulness meditation, I recommend Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness.

Several scientific studies have shown promising effects for mindfulness based meditation.  Here is a good summary of evidence-based research on mindfulness.

#2.  Cut back on caffeine (DIFFICULT!!!)

Honestly, I struggle with giving up caffeine.  I have a bad habit of grabbing a caffeinated beverage when I want to focus.  However, caffeine constricts blood vessels which can cause Raynaud’s symptoms to worsen.

I am working to switch to tea when I write since tea has less caffeine.  I have decided to try green tea which has several health benefits.  Green tea has been linked to reduced cholesterol as well as cancer risk.  Plus it’s nice and warm which is great for winter time!

#3.  Exercise More and Try Hot Yoga

Exercise improves your circulation which is helpful for symptoms of Raynaud’s.  I do cardio three times a week as well as strength training.  Occasionally, I will follow a yoga video if I feel that my muscles are becoming tense.  In my case, I do notice that my symptoms are more manageable when I make sure to keep up with my exercise routine.

I have heard a few personal anecdotes that hot yoga is helpful for Raynaud’s.  I have been meaning to try a yoga class so that I can get feedback on my form.  I am hoping that a warm yoga studio will provide motivati

photo of Susi in a hooded parka

Maybe not this many layers…

on to bundle up and head out for an exercise class.

#4.  Dress in layers (and more layers)

 

I go for a walk every day after lunch.  Walking improves digestion, and the exposure to sunlight improves your mood as well as providing you with a little Vitamin D.  Going out for a walk when it is cold and windy takes some preparation.

I dress in layers to keep myself warm throughout the day.  In the winter, I will typically layer a camisole and a sweater.  I wear a heavier coat into work.  I also wear a scarf and gloves.  If it gets too cold, I can layer a pair of thin driving gloves under my regular knit gloves and a pair of tights under my pants.   Uniqlo’s HEATTECH line is supposedly great for cold weather as well.

#5.  Invest in multitasking items and devices to keep you warm and productive

At work, I keep a cardigan and a pair of Wristies® by my desk.  Wristies® are fingerless gloves which are great for keeping my hands warm and allowing me to type without hindrance.  I also am working to keep good posture and a neutral wrist when typing.  Bending my wrists too much makes my carpal tunnel syndrome worse which also makes my Raynaud’s symptoms worse.

I also keep a portable USB powered hand warmer at my desk. My hand warmer also doubles as a mobile device charger.  It’s great for when I forget to charge my phone.

At home, I have a small hand-sized heating pad and several microwavable heating pads for when I get cold from typing too much.  I also use Tomato Timer to work in short bursts.  After each burst, I get up and move around.

How do you keep warm during the winter?

I hope that you find these tips helpful.  I am still working on managing my Raynaud’s symptoms and would love any tips that you have for managing Raynaud’s or just staying warm in general.  How do you stay productive when it is freezing cold?

 

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2 Comments

  1. Max Handelman
    February 16, 2017 / 9:48 pm

    I’ve suffered with Raynauds for years, each year getting a little worse. This year for the first time I’ve tried acupuncture to deal with my freezing fingers and toes. We started in September with weekly treatments, then spread it out to 2 or 3 weeks between treatments (3 weeks was probably too long). I’ve noticed a significant improvement in my fingers and toes this winter. the Raynauds is not gone, but my digits are freezing less frequently, and for less amount of time. I haven’t had to use my electric gloves once this winter. I live in Chicago.

    • February 19, 2017 / 4:01 pm

      Thanks for the advice Max! I have been thinking about trying acupuncture since I have heard that it can reduce allergy symptoms. I may have to try it for Raynauds. How long does a session last typically?

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