It wasn't until a few years ago that I learnt of the term 'October slide', but when I did it definitely helped me make sense of a lot of issues I have with my chronic illness conditions.
Each year my symptoms worsen come the fall season when the temperature dips, the nights get dark so early and all I crave is stodgy carb-heavy meals while wrapped in a snuggly blanket. This year I am preparing for the October slide with chronic illness and the conditions I have in the hope of preventing my symptoms from increasing too much.
If you have any strategies for helping symptoms during this time, do let me know in the comments!
Of course, I am not a doctor or medical professional and these are simply things that I am trying out and my experiences. This post should not be taken as medical advice in any way. Always consult with a medical professional.
What is the October slide?
While the October slide isn't an official term per se, it typically refers to the worsening of symptoms of some chronic illness conditions during the fall / autumn months. It seems to be quite well known amongst the chronic illness community, and some doctors too in relation to dysautonomia (Boris, 2010).* Personally, I find symptoms to be more heightened at this time when it comes to feeling dizzy, light-headed and joint pain.
I've wondered why the October slide is a 'thing' and there seem to be a few factors at play. The darker days make life feel a little more heavy, which affects my mood, and the lack of strong sunlight means we can't make vitamin D. The cold makes my Raynauds flare, which then seems to affect my whole body and some days I never feel truly warm. I tend to exercise less, as many of us find when the sun seems to have done a disappearing act and is replaced by cloud, rain and perhaps a touch of snow too. All combine to make my rather 'on edge' body get even more tetchy than it usually is.
1. Checking in with my doctors
My first step is to discuss my current management plan for my various conditions, which include POTS / dysautonomia, hEDS, mast cell activation syndrome, fibromyalgia and interstitial cystitis (amongst others!) and see if any adjustments are a good idea.
Perhaps your doctor will suggest increasing a medication dose a touch, changing to another or adding something in. Or they may suggest greater monitoring of symptoms through tests or by using a symptom tracker so you can better liaise over your care.
I often find that lifestyle measures are just as important, and it's great if you can discuss these with a physiotherapist / physical therapist, occupational therapist or other health professional. This year I'm planning to add in more yoga as my achy hips and legs always get worse during the damp weather and some extra targeted strengthening exercises for my joints and muscles too.
2. Preparing healthy meals in advance
Who else craves all the carbs come the colder weather? Just me? Not quite sure if I believe you . . . !! Sitting in front of the TV in the evening with a big bowl of pasta is definitely very appealing during dark nights, and is fine now and again, but I tend to indulge a little too often.
With a carb-rich meal not being the best idea for dysautonomia symptoms, I'm going to try and focus more on protein and vegetables and have a slightly reduced amount of pasta (and rice, bread, all the good stuff!). Now I am definitely not carb-free or even low carb, but a little less helps me out.
So this year I'm going into meal prep mode and cooking up lots of healthy low histamine recipes (as the diet I follow due to MCAS) and filling my freezer. I'm thinking lots of soups, stews, my sweet potato burgers and I've already stocked up on frozen fish for quick traybake meals.
Check out my low histamine recipes if you follow the SIGHI list too!
3. Drinking my water (or tea!)
I know, you have heard it a hundred times before. Every doctor, dietician and pretty much everyone else in the chronic illness world will remind you to drink more water year-round! I find I forget a little more when the weather is cooler but it's so important. I'll be filling up my water bottle and having lots of cups of peppermint tea this fall.
4. Supplementing with vitamin D
One of the big issues with the fall season and perhaps an element of the October slide with chronic illness for me at least, is that we can no longer get sufficient amounts of vitamin D from the sun in the northern Hemisphere. With the importance of vitamin D for health being emphasised more and more, I make sure that I supplement every day. Personally I use the BetterYou vitamin D spray as I absorb it far better than in tablet form (I was always deficient when I took the tablets).
Always check with a medical professional before taking any new supplements.
5. Clothes swaps
I know clothes and colder weather may seem obvious. Adding warm snuggly jumpers is the first step come fall isn't it. Well, yes and no. Because if you have skin sensitivities like I do then lots of fabrics like wool can make me itch, burn and want to stand under a cold shower to take the pain away.
So I'm pulling out my cotton tops, and comfy sweatshirts (not fleece-lined!) from under the bed and doing a little online shopping for a few new pieces too. I learnt the hard way that trying to wear jumpers that were super cute, but made me super itch was not the way forward last year!
Have a read of my clothes and chronic illness post for lots of suggestions made by my friends on Instagram who live with various health conditions.
6. Re-assessing self-care
Self-care is a massive topic and means different things to each of us. It can mean seeing a therapist for CBT or checking in with a physiotherapist, as well as prioritising yourself a bit more through yoga, meditation, healthy meals or journalling, amongst many other ideas. Or if for you it means a facemask and a bubble bath, then that's great too. I don't think self-care in any form should have stigma attached to it.
Self-care for my potential October slide means a few things; making a few sessions a week of yoga or just some stretches a real priority, eating well and making sure I drink my water, as well taking the time to rest. So simple, but my brain is always going at 100 miles an hour with ideas for this and that. Well, some 'switching off' time and for that to be a bit more than during the warmer summer months is so necessary when symptoms are worse than usual.
Self-care is of course very helpful for managing health conditions during the holidays, which are often so hectic.
7. Pacing and 'slow living'
Related to my self-care is pacing and what is often called 'slow living' by many. Pacing is always a bit tricky for me, but it is so beneficial to managing pain and fatigue levels. For me, it means stopping BEFORE I get exhausted, not after. As well as spreading tasks out over the week rather than trying to do them all in one go. I am hoping this will help me manage the October slide of symptoms better.
And slow living means appreciating smaller moments and, as the name suggests, a slower pace of life. Sometimes I find this difficult, but I've been quite inspired by Cottagecore practices of appreciating nature and 'quiet' pursuits lately, and finding joy in short walks to see some cows down the road or arranging flowers picked from my garden.
Related post: Cottagecore and chronic illness: the benefits of slow living
8. Exercise at home
Exercise has been at home most of this year so far for obvious reasons (including shielding in the UK), so I am used to my at-home workouts. Exercise with chronic illness, or movement in any form, is so individual depending upon your condition and symptoms. On my bad dysautonomia days it literally can mean walking up and down the front room a few times, and even that will make me dizzy and light-headed.
On better days I love using my pedal exerciser as it is so convenient, is done sitting down and gets my legs moving and my heart pumping (although not too much!). As I've already talked about, yoga is being added in a bit more and when I can some online workouts as I find keeping my leg as strong as I can to be really beneficial.
I would suggest speaking with a physiotherapist about your personal circumstances and the kind of movement and exercise they recommend for you, and taking into account that your symptoms may be increased during the October slide. They may be able to suggest ways to help manage this more effectively.
I hope this post was helpful! Do let me know of any ways that you prepare in the comments.
* the October slide may be recognised by doctors for other conditions too, but I am not familiar with those literatures.
I'm active on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter if you would like to follow along!
Pacing with chronic illness (and how I am choosing to 'spend' my energy)
Assistive devices for the home recommended by spoonies
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Julie Holliday says
Great post. I always have this issue too. I find that I just have to do even less than my normal baseline at this time of year and accept that there is an additional drain on my energy. I also allow myself to cut back and allow my motivation to dip, trusting that it's temporary and I'll come out the other side again.
When I used to have acupuncture, my therapist explained that this is a seasonal adjustment that everyone deals with, but you just don't really notice if you're healthy. She said she did season change treatments with everyone, to help adjust with the energetic changes.
That trust that it is temporary is so important isn't it. Very interesting about the seasonal adjustment, I find going into winter the hardest one to manage.
Thank you for your excellent post. I tend to focus more on the spiritual/emotional side of dealing with my chronic illness (Chiari 1), but reading your post and the comments makes me feel like I'm right at home here. I need to get my vitamin D levels checked, start prepping some meals, get outside as much as the weather allows and clean out my closet! Many thanks for all the reminders!
Hi Patti, thanks so much for reading my post! I'm so glad it was helpful. I think I need to focus more on the emotional side - just shows that we can all grow in managing our conditions over time I think!
Cassie Creley | Starlight Through The Storm says
This is such a helpful phrase to know. It’s something I’ve been aware of, but only knew a name for in the last couple years. The October slide hit me earlier than usual this year, so I really appreciated this post. I never understood WHY my friends got excited about “being able to wear lots of layers” this time of year, and now I finally realize its because those of us with fibromyalgia can’t stand all the layers, especially on top of feeling so cold and crummy.
One thing that helps me with October slide is preparing something to look forward to. This year, I’ve been planning outfits for Disneybounding (dressing based on movie characters) throughout October.
It's like catch-22 isn't it! We often feel the cold so much more and yet lots of fabrics feel painful and itchy. No wooly jumpers for me at least.
I love that you are planning some fun things to do - sounds like such a nice way to relax in a peaceful way 🙂
Stacey Chapman says
Great post and tips.
I struggle tremendously this time of year, especially with the temperature changes in New England.
While I really love fall, the foliage and the crisp days, mentally I think it's a tough time knowing that tons of snow and severe cold are right around the corner. It's depressing to face months of being housebound.
I'm with you on the clothes thing, too. As cold as I get (Raynaud's too), I can't wear wool or heavy fabrics. I resort to cotton and layers.
Great tips! Thanks so much!!
I know what you mean, I find it hard to know that winter is almost here and that it will be a very long time until the air is warm again. I think those of us with fibro feel the cold a lot more don't we. Or at least, that is how it seems from friends with the condition.
Hope you stay as warm as you can! Claire
Shruti Chopra says
I've never heard of the October slide and since I live in a city that doesn't have a winter season I haven't experienced it in a while, but when I have lived in cities that do have a cold winter season, the getting used to the darkness takes a while and that cold silence that happens does make it feel like a slide. It would take me a month or so to get used to the time changing but then somehow, I'd love it! But yes, it can be easy to stay snuggled in and your tips are great reminders on how to keep going during these times.
I hadn't heard of it until recently either, but it makes sense doesn't it. I think I would love the summer all year, but only if it didn't get too hot or humid. Must be very different issues in Mumbai in terms of symptoms and the weather, than it is here in London. We will have to chat about it more!
The cold really is a big contributor to my condition. Not only do I struggle to keep warm, I also can’t move as well, and am at higher risk of winter illnesses.
I struggle to keep warm too, due to Raynauds and autonomic issues. If only it could be warm (but not hot!) all year round.
Sheryl Chan says
What a thorough and useful post. Loved the tips even though we don't have autumn here it was very interesting!
And yes at first I thought 'October Slide' sounded like some kind of fun event heh.
thanks Sheryl! Haha - if only it were fun heh?!
Carrie Kellenberger says
It's so strange that the seasons affect us so deeply. Summer is by far the worst time of year for me and I think I struggle with it so much that by the time I hit the end of September, I'm done with the year. The rest is just a marathon to drag myself past the finish line for the year. We only have two seasons here in Taiwan, so I don't find the effects as bad as in Canada, but it's definitely there.
Once the end of September rolls around here, I've got three things in mind:
1. Getting through the anniversary of my brother's death and supporting my family as much as possible while coping with my own grief. This usually sets me off for the rest of the year.
2. Prepping meals for the rest of the year is a big one for us, especially with two different diets in our home
3. Swapping out clothes and getting ready for winter because when the temp dips, it's going to go fast here. I've gotten rid of A LOT of stuff and haven't bought much since 2017. I don't have as much to go through now and I like that.
Oops, and I guess four! Reading and getting my book lists ready for the rest of this year and early 2021. (I'm a nerd. I freely admit it.) It's time to snuggle down and ignore the holiday craze. We just kicked off Moon Festival here and I can't be bothered.
I also eat much less healthy when the weather starts getting cold. One aspect for me is that I already dislike washing veggies at the sink, and dislike it even more when it's cold and I don't want to get my hands wet or get splashed - plus pulling my sleeves up so they don't get wet is so cold as well. Such a small thing, but it really makes me avoid preparing fresh veggies. I guess I should just buy more pre-washed and chopped veggies?
Thanks for all the tips!!
Sometimes it's the little things isn't it. But yes, pre-cut veggies sounds like a good idea if it would help you out. And frozen ones may be an option too. Glad the tips help 🙂
Katie Clark says
I haven't paid a lot of attention , yet, to the affects the change in season/weather bring for me. I know I have loved being in the sun and where I live there's little to no sun during the winter months. I have my light box therapy out on my desk for when I write in my office. I agree, though, no itchy uncomfortable sweaters for me. I've really weeded out my closet. Much of my "work" wardrobe has been donated. Hoping your preparation helps make life easier this fall.
I have a lot of issues with clothes too. I'm guessing it's the fibro we both deal with. Always with the irritated skin. Hope you have lots of comfy options now.