Does being cold make tics worse?

Why do I tic when I’m cold? And why is the man behind me in his underwear?

I chose Covent Garden for this post (the reason is at the end of the post!) asking why the cold makes tics worse in some of us with Tourette’s and tic disorders.

And although the reasons may differ from person to person, there are a few reasons that stand as out as main culprits for me.

Much is still not known with tics, although they can be triggered in many ways. For some, the cold is a trigger, whereas others feel heat has the same effect. This could be due to stress levels brought on by increased discomfort, and shivering may trigger similar motor tics.

I noticed how many people were searching ‘Why do I tic when I’m cold?’ on my blogs stats and had to make a post dedicated to this.

I got up this morning to take photos for two posts, as I recently posted about my tap checking compulsion in OCD.

And very fittingly it was very cold. 7 Celsius (44 Fahrenheit).

What are my tics in the cold?

My tics are mainly head nodding, shoulder shrugging and short grunts and hums.

I noticed my tics were worse on the tube than they were that whole morning. Even if the train was warmer than the walk to the station. I find this very interesting.

They seem to be focused on the head, neck and shoulder region, however this is where roughly 90% of my tics are located in general. They seem to come out more when I am outside in the cold.

The head nodding generally is followed by some eyebrow twitching, at the same time my shoulder tics are happening.

Below I wanted to state some reasons as to why this may be, especially when they are worse on the tube than they are outside. I also carried out a poll to ask people with TS if their tics increase in cold weather, with some interesting results.

There are factors that increase tics

What makes Tourette’s Syndrome so hard to pin down is the sheer variety of ways it presents itself.

Tics originate as an urge to carry out a certain act. This act could be anything from shouting a word to punching a wall. Tics can change over time, as can the severity.

After reading up in forums, some agree that cold weather causes this. However, others would say warm weather does. I also feel that heat can be stressful and with that, increase my tics.

It has to be agreed that cold weather does increase tics, but only for some.

Poll results regarding cold weather and tics

A well known fact is that stress can increase tics. And I would imagine most people regardless of location dislike the cold to some degree.

I conducted a Reddit poll in the r/Tourette’s community, asking the 11,700 strong group if hot or cold weather had an effect on their tics. 159 people took part in the poll, and the results are as follows:

Poll result
FYI, the tick next to ‘heat’ is from my vote. I personally feel heat is more stressful, and often causes more tics.

It is an interesting finding. Out of the 159 people, 88 believed cold temperatures made them worse. Only 15 people believed the heat did the same. A large portion of the group (56) did not believe the hot or cold had an effect at all.

The reason this figure is slightly different to the image is because one user admitted they accidentally hit the wrong button when voting.

Reddit comment

One issue I encountered was that I didn’t add a ‘both make my tics worse‘ option, however I specified as the poll went on that people could provide this answer in the form of a comment attached to the poll. Despite getting over 20 comments in feedback, only one specified that both hot and cold was a trigger of tics.

Reddit comment

Shivering can be a trigger of tics

Two users told me that shivering was a trigger for tics. This makes sense as shivering can look like tics, and Tourette’s likes to pick up on movements that can be made into tics.

Reddit comments stating cold makes tics worse

It is well known in the TS community that talking about tics can trigger new ones. Many Reddit users add *trigger warning* before describing their tics to warn others of a potential trigger.

It makes sense that shivering could make tics worse in someone susceptible to triggers.

Your clothing may be a trigger

I have realized that my scarf is guaranteed to give me tics in my neck region. As soon as I put one on I instantly feel trapped, and this sets off many shoulder shrugging/ head nodding tics.

The tighter the clothing, the more tics I have. This explains why I feel a stronger urge to tic on transport as the enclosed space and tight clothing increase my stress. I get pretty claustrophobic.

In fact, I feel that the cold doesn’t really affect my tics, it is the clothing. And with that I have posted about tight clothing and tics here!

When I am wearing multiple layers, my movement is limited. I am someone that constantly needs to move, and if I feel this has been restricted I cannot take it for long. The same is true if I am wearing a suit and tie. These tics tend to stay a little while even after removing the items.

Next time you are heading out, try to see if your tics increase as you are putting on layers. It may not be the case for you, but I can’t be the only one out there that knows this claustrophobic feeling.

How to reduce tics in the cold

Stay warm! If you need to be out in the cold, wear plenty of warm clothing to keep the shivers at bay.

But not too tight if those clothes are going to make tics worse, loose-fitting may be better for some.

If you’re a parent of a child with TS, consider exposure to cold as being a factor. Plenty of warmth when outside, they may not see the weather as a factor although it could well be. One user specified in the comments that a bath helps to make the tics go away as the muscles relax. See if this is the case at home.

Hot drinks could help, but it is probably wise to avoid caffeine when possible. I have a popular post on caffeine and its link to TS that you can read here.

Conclusion

The poll helped me understand that cold weather can be a trigger. There isn’t really much information on the internet linking tics to temperature, however speaking to people diagnosed with TS it is certainly something to consider.

Some people won’t feel cold has an effect. For others, the heat may be problematic.

I need to take into account that the poll was conducted in winter time for numerous countries. Europe and North America are big users of Reddit. This means a large number of those polled were answering during colder months. An increase in tics may feel weather induced, despite actually having another unknown trigger- lockdown for example.

Despite this, the results seem pretty conclusive. A large number of people believe tics are worsened by the cold and that is something to work with in the long run.


P.S, I visited Covent Garden as there is a store called Ellis Brigham located here…

It is a Mountain Sports store with a really cool feature- an ice climbing wall hidden at the back of the store!

However unfortunately it turns out it is no longer there, I used these photos from a previous visit.

Was Covent Garden therefore a good segue into a post about cold weather and tics? Probably not. I guess the man doing a tightrope in his pants will have to do instead.


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