Do you find that your fibromyalgia symptoms are worse in the summer time? I know I do, even though for some the opposite is true, with winter being their most difficult time.
Summer normally gets a great press, the newspapers are full of images of people out enjoying the sunshine and there’s a general expectation that everyone feels lighter and brighter at this time of year. But when you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, summers can be hard to cope with, as many classic fibro symptoms, both mental and physical, can become more bothersome during the warmer months.
Here are a few of the areas that can be tricky to navigate when living with fibromyalgia.
Extremes of temperature, both hot and cold, can exacerbate fibromyalgia pain although there is little research on the specific reasons behind this. Many of us are sensitive to temperature changes, and so the onset of hot weather can cause us even more discomfort.
The NHS1 reports that many prescription medicines can reduce tolerance of heat, which may help explain why some of us do struggle when the weather heats up.
When it’s hot, it’s more important than ever to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. It’s also a good idea to stay in the shade or indoors if you are heat sensitive and, as a general rule, to avoid being outdoors in full sun at between 11am and 3pm.
Wearing loose fitting cotton or linen clothing can also help you to feel much less hot and bothered.
Many of us suffer with migraine along with fibromyalgia, and bright light is a common migraine trigger. According to the NHS2 this is because bright lights can act to boost the levels of particular chemicals in the brain, which then activate the brain’s “migraine centre”.
For me, prolonged exposure to bright sunlight is a definite migraine trigger. I’ve learned from past mistakes that on bright days, I need my category 43 sunglasses and will also wear a baseball cap to shield my eyes further from the sun. This definitely helps, although I still try to avoid going out when the sun is at its brightest to try and avoid being bedridden with a migraine for days afterwards.
There’s nothing like a sunny day to bring people outdoors and this can also mean loud voices, thumping music and screaming children. Many of us are noise sensitive and as such can feel stressed when the volume in our environment rises. A 2021 study published in the Journal of Pain4 reported evidence that the hypersensitivity that we often experience as fibro patients (believed to be due to abnormal brain mechanisms) includes not just pain stimuli but also sound stimuli which may explain why we sometimes find noise so hard to deal with.
Noise cancelling headphones can be a boon if you are negatively affected by sound, as can sound masking white noise machines.
It can seem that everyone else except us is having a ball when the sun shines, which can fuel feelings of depression, anxiety, loneliness and isolation. A 2021 article published on Psychology Today5 suggested that “loneliness and psychiatric difficulties increase in spring and summer”. To combat this, a number of recommendations are made within the article, such as involvement in supportive community activities or engaging in small talk with strangers and retail workers, which can also enhance well being. I’d also add online interactions, especially with those who are going through similar, as it helps to know you’re not alone.
Something I’ve been told a gazillion times over the years by so many people is that I’m “wasting this lovely weather” if I choose to stay indoors when the sun is shining. Even my parents were guilty of saying this to me growing up and I used to buy into it, sometimes forcing myself to do something outside when I really didn’t want to. These days, I can look back and recognise how much stress and upset that would cause me, but I now have the confidence to ignore those messages and do what I want, irrespective of the weather and the thoughts of other people!
Finally, summer can mean disrupted routines due to additional social engagements and travel which, in turn, can mean extra pain, fatigue or even a full on flare.
When planning to go to an event, it’s key to think about not just the occasion itself, but any travel or preparation time you may need, and remembering to pace your activities if you’d normally do this. It may also be worth considering whether you have to or even want to attend a certain engagement, or if you’re fulfilling an obligation, remembering that its perfectly OK to meet your own needs first.
Above all, be kind to yourself, especially if you find this time of year difficult.
Do you find summer hard to cope with if you have fibromyalgia, or does the warmer weather help your symptoms? I’d love to hear from you 🙂
A version of this article appeared in the July 2022 edition of the Fibromyalgia Magazine.
3 – Category 4 sunglasses have extremely dark lenses as they block around 92% of UV light. They are intended for intense sunshine, snowboarding or skiing activities, but the dark lenses mean they are not suitable for driving.