How Winter is Wrecking Your Body (And What to Do About it)

Washington, DC (after a school-closing snowfall)

Do you live in San Diego? Palau? Tampa? Then please ignore this post as you sprinkle tinsel over your beach towel.

For the rest of us, how does the cold weather affect our bodies? We might:

  • Hunch
    the shoulders forward to keep the wind out
  • Drop
    the head, tucking chin into scarf
  • Round
    the upper back to protect the face from the cold
  • Clench
    the jaw, setting the face in that familiar winter grimace

Hello, pain.

Welcome to my body, friends of pain.

Tight and achy shoulders. The tighter they get, the stickier your thoracic spine gets. Your breath gets shallower. You get tired more quickly.

Stiff neck. The triumvirate of protective posture (head down, shoulders forward, chest curling to protect the neck and heart) triggers the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). Your body starts telling itself, there´s a threat out there–be alert, which means you aren´t operating at full intellectual and emotional capacity. Grouchiness? Anxiety? Increased cursing? Dumb mistakes? Yes.

Migraine symptoms. Maybe your jaw clenching triggered the beginning of a migraine. Now your eyes hurt. You´re sensitive to light and sound. Your digestion is off. You can´t get done what you want to get done.

Lower back pain. Throwing off one aspect of your spinal posture always affects the rest of the spine. If you lean forward with the cervical and thoracic spine, guess what the lumbar spine will do? It will lean forward, too. And when your body´s at a forward angle like that, most people (especially those who are still battling unresolved post-baby postural changes) will compensate by turning on the lower back. Ow. And that will also lead to…

Pressure on your diastasis. Lower back overworking? Your abs are now probably underworking. With no support from below, a healing linea alba can´t come back together. And all of this together creates…

Fatigue. Walking around all day in a boxer´s fighting stance (chin down, shoulders forward, neck and heart protected)–it´s tiring. You´re using up energy that you could have used for something else.

Risk of leaking. Hmm, what happens if you clench your jaw? You probably clench your shoulders (see above) and your pelvic floor. A tight, clenched pelvic floor isn´t one at full strength. Add that to increased emotional stress (see below), and you´ve got a recipe for leaking (while you´re wearing the only clothes that keep you semi-warm, your dry-clean-only wool pants).

Gait changes. Good walking and running habits mean the difference between exercise helping you heal and exercise making your [diastasis/prolapse/back pain/neck pain/leaking] worse. It´s hard to walk or run right when your shoulders are up by your ears.

Emotional stress. Any one of the problems listed above is enough to get you nice and stress-y. Then add in worrying about the problem, the fact that your glove is wet from opening the car door, and the fact that the metro is way too hot to be wearing this coat and scarf but there is no room to take it off, especially since you´re carrying these snowflake gift bags for your coworkers. Yeah. You got stress.

What to Do

Warming Techniques

  • Take steamy warm showers and baths.
  • Make herbal tea, hold the mug in your hands for a while, and read the side of the box explaining all the benefits of the tea while you sip.
  • Dance. You know how: dramatically. Stretch it out and send the blood through those muscles.
  • Hot yoga. But only if you know what you´re doing, posture-wise…or if your teacher does (and you listen to her/him).
  • Make it a given that when you go outside, you wear your scarf, hat, and gloves, warm boots, and your big coat.

Relaxing Techniques

  • That stretching class you secretly deride as ¨too easy for someone like me.” Wait, what would happen if you did something easy? Would you…relax? : )
  • Peppermint or wintergreen oil blends on the shoulders, neck, or lower back. The invigorating scent energizes you while the muscles release.
  • Get back to your college student vibe, and play songs you like while you just lie on your bed and haphazardly sing along, thinking about nothing in particular.
  • I really recommend something that focuses and changes your energy, like playing a board game instead of flicking on the TV at night, or doing some slow flower arranging. (Are you laughing? Well, try it. Don´t you feel better?)

Stretching Techniques

  • Alternating overhead arm reaches, lifting from the ribs on each side.
  • Cat/cow with slow exhale/inhale
  • Half sun salutation
  • Supine upper back twists (keep it out of the lower back by jamming your fist between your bent knees)
  • Moon flow series

Hey, winter won´t last forever. It´s always San Diego somewhere.