For the past few weeks the temperatures have regularly dropped below zero in the UK and nothing is set to change as yet another spell of snow is set to potentially drop in the coming weekend. Temperature plays a vital role in being able to maintain steady breathing, and even for a person with healthy lungs, it can feel a struggle to catch your breath when stepping into sub-zero conditions. So in essence of that, here are a few things I learnt when helping Dad to stay active and not feel cooped up indoors for weeks on end until warmer temperatures returned. A nice bonus little post to help keep you inspired to stay positive in the bitter frost ahead.
Don’t Fear the Heating
I know it’s a worry dealing with fuel bills, but help is at hand for people who are vulnerable and vitally need to keep the house warm. New schemes are in place to help provide financial support so please don’t hesitate to reach out and find out what you could possibly claim. This website has a brief rundown of the options available to you, but perhaps the best way to find out how you can get help is by speaking to a representative from your local Council or Citizens Advice, asking your Nurse Specialist for referral to someone they recommend or if you are receiving palliative care, then get in touch with Macmillan who can advise you on what you’re entitled to. Don’t worry about the “cancer” aspect of Macmillan as they are becoming wiser in helping people of all terminal and progressive illnesses. Whatever you do, don’t sit in the cold because you’re too afraid to reach out for help.
Hot Water Bottles & Accessorize
This may seem a little obvious but be sure to layer up when at home and especially when going out. You can now get hold of small hot water bottles with furry covers to make them feel a little more cuddly (and less likely to give third degree burns!) and they really come in handy to place on your lap or behind your back to keep warm. Likewise, a good scarf is your best friend and a snood even better as it circles round your neck, so you don’t have to worry about that pesky annoying bit of scarf that keeps needing to be tucked in. If you’re a dab hand at knitting, why not keep yourself occupied by knitting your own snood and those for your friends and family to keep warm. Alternatively, send a friend off to Primark and buy a couple of cheap ones just to tide you over for the rest of the biting cold weather. Also, it’s much easy to layer up and layer down than wearing one thick jumper so you can better manage your temperature and feel comfortable moving between indoors (where the heating is usually cranked up!) and back outside into the cold.
Fill Your Plate
Keep snacking throughout the day as this natural fuel will help keep you warm, particularly if you keep popping the kettle on and making yourself a cuppa. Don’t eat too much in one sitting as this is more likely to make you feel lethargic and a little sick but keep snacks on hand. Don’t however take this is an excuse to increase your calorie load if you should be keeping an eye on your weight. However, for someone like my Dad who lost a lot of weight in a short period of time, be sure to bulk out your meals with extra calories and snack on sugary foods such as Jelly Babies to give you extra precious energy. If you’re not sure where you lie on the calorie spectrum and what your ideal weight should be, then have a chat with your Nurse Specialist who can help you manage and give you some recipe ideas.
Avoid Cabin Fever
It’s all too easy to hole yourself up and wait it out but be sure to take care of your mental health. If you would in fact prefer to stay indoors then seek out some new hobbies, treat yourself to some new books, a jigsaw puzzle or an adult colouring book. Think outside the box of what you can achieve if you don’t wish to go outside. However, if you can make the effort to get outside then don’t let anything stop you. Just plan ahead as you normally would, make sure you have plenty of removable layers and seek out a good pair of gloves and hand warmers to keep the biting frost at bay. And it never has to be a great adventure, it could be so much as having a run to your local garden centre and sitting in the café for an indulgent hot chocolate just to change the scenery from being cooped up at home. As the British Lung Foundation and many other respiratory organisations have advised, the best thing you can do to stop yourself from becoming breathless so harshly is to cover your mouth and keep your neck and ears warm, which is why getting hold of a snood is a perfect tool to tick all these boxes.
Treat it like an extended Christmas, invite any friends and family round, crack out the board games or find a few films to watch together. Socialising in a nice homely warm environment will take your mind off the possibilities of feeling low and it breaks up the day quite nicely. If you want to then get to know your neighbours or seek out a local support group and befriend others living with respiratory disease so you can chat to them on the phone if you both feel a little claustrophobic. It’s also universal, so have a look at the possibility of starting up a pen pal relationship or getting involved on the online forums. Don’t see this time as something that you’re waiting to pass, it’s still precious and there are goals that you can achieve, sometimes you have to step back and look at the bigger picture than immediately put yourself down by comparing yourself to others and feeling immediately isolated.
I’d love to hear any more ideas from anyone else on how they cope with respiratory diseases and freezing temperatures. If there is one I want to end on is this. Last December I was in Helsinki joining in the Independence celebrations and as I was walking down the main high street in the freezing cold dark to catch the tram back to the apartment, a man similarly aged to my Dad (about 60) walked past me covered head to toe, but what caught my eye was his nasal cannula. He was wearing oxygen and in minus temperatures, close to midnight, had found the confidence and support he needed to stay active and to not miss out on the spectacular celebrations. I took a leaf out of his book that anything is possible if you approach it with the right attitude and you just find a way to push through the barriers, perhaps be inspired by this stranger and find out how you can achieve the same this Winter season.