Dealing with the winter blues is a common problem for many people. These mental health challenges are especially problematic for cancer patients for various reasons. Understanding how to cope with these feelings is essential to anyone’s mental health, whether you live in a place with mild or extremely cold winters. Staying proactive by looking at different ways to overcome these problems will help cancer patients remain resilient throughout the winter months.
Here is an overview of the different challenges facing cancer patients during the winter.
Cold and Flu Season
Staying healthy during the cold and flu season months is never easy. Receiving cancer treatment makes it even more important to remain vigilant in avoiding the cold and flu due to the weakened immune system. According to the CDC, more than 256,000 people were hospitalized with the flu in 2019. Receiving an annual flu shot is essential for cancer patients, as the flu is much more dangerous for anyone getting cancer treatment.
Not staying in close contact with anyone that’s sick is another crucial aspect of protecting cancer patients. Germs can often quickly spread by touching your nose, eyes, or mouth. Constantly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is vital in staying healthy during the flu season. Other tips include:
- Getting plenty of sleep.
- Eating healthy meals.
- Managing your stress.
- Staying physically active if possible.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
One of the biggest reasons for the winter blues is a condition known as “seasonal affective disorder.” This mental health condition often occurs during the winter months due to less activity and deficiency of Vitamin D. Seasonal affective disorder is especially challenging for cancer patients. It can cause their mental well-being to worsen due to depressive symptoms. Seasonal affective disorder symptoms often include a feeling of hopelessness, social withdrawal, agitation, cognitive difficulty, a lack of appetite, and sleep issues.
Understanding how to get Vitamin D in winter is critical to mental health. Going out for a walk for at least 15 minutes each day helps overcome a Vitamin D deficiency. Taking Vitamin D supplements is often recommended, as many people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. Other seasonal affective disorder treatments include light therapy, antidepressants, and psychotherapy. Discussing these different treatments with your doctor is important in finding the right plan to meet your needs.
Dry Skin in Winter
Dry skin is often much worse in the winter due to the colder air. This winter itch is incredibly annoying for cancer patients because of the chemotherapy. The lack of humidity causes dry skin in winter, as it can quickly become cracked or even rubbed raw from excessive scratching. Not spending too much time in the cold temperature can help to reduce dry skin. You can also limit the winter itch by drinking plenty of fluids and moisturizers.
It’s also recommended to avoid using harsh soaps or detergents, as this can cause dry skin to become worse over time. Purchasing a home humidifier is another way to limit dry skin and avoid the winter itch. These humidifiers also provide other benefits, such as reducing allergies, improving your sleep, and they can help prevent health issues by adding humidity into the air. Dealing with a winter dry skin rash is often a challenge, but following these tips can help you limit these problems.
Many types of cancer treatment interfere with how the body regulates temperature. Cancer patients are more sensitive to the cold, which increases the chance of hypothermia or frostbite. While both conditions are rare, they are very serious and can even lead to death. The most common symptoms of hypothermia include drowsiness, profound shivering, weak pulse, slurred speech, loss of coordination, and shallow breathing.
On the other hand, frostbite causes the skin to whiten, especially on the ears and fingertips. The skin will eventually turn black due to the lack of blood. Severe cases of frostbite require amputation, as it’s critical for cancer patients to keep warm by dressing in layers while being outside in the cold for an extended period of time. Spending time outdoors with a friend and keeping your cellphone with you is critical to staying safe in case of an accident.
The winter blues can impact cancer patients in many ways, whether due to a vitamin D deficiency, seasonal affective disorder, or a lack of activity. The flu season can further complicate things and cause serious health risks. Dry skin is also more likely because of the lack of humidity. Hyperthermia in cancer patients is another risk due to how the treatment interacts with the body. Understanding these different risks and taking action is vital in helping cancer patients avoid these challenges during the winter months.