Every year, despite the fact that I’m a hot-weather gal, I look forward to this time of year. Fall is my absolute favorite, especially with all of the fun holiday festivities (from Halloween through Christmas). However…my one pitfall every year, without fail, is that November is the month I get sick. It’s actually a guarantee for me, at this point.
Most years, I actually find myself sick for Thanksgiving, so it’s a small blessing that this year, I caught something early enough that I’ll probably be OK for Turkey Day (knock on huge slab of wood). Still, this morning when I dragged myself out of bed — peeling myself up looking and feeling like roadkill — I resigned myself to the fact that this was only the beginning of what’s probably going to be 7-10 days of congestion, fatigue, and low-grade fever (joy! Just the excuse I was looking for to lie in bed and re-watch the Twilight movies)!
What better segue, though, into discussing how to care for yourself this cold/flu season when it seems that everyone around you is falling prey to the “common cold?” (It sounds far less menacing than it actually feels).
1. Eat the proper nutrition to avoid immune system crashes.
You knew I was going to start with this one, but I actually think it’s the reason why I’m now sick. For two or three days, I’ve been slacking on getting all of the necessary nutrients I usually am very mindful about consuming each day for the sole reason that I got lazy (let’s be real, it takes about 15 minutes to prepare a salad, extra time to wash and chop fruit, etc.) As a result, I was probably far less equipped to battle this virus when I was first exposed to it. So remember — even on your cheat days — aim to still get 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies each day! Additionally, try to eat a cup of plain Greek yogurt each day not only for the protein component, but for the probiotic element it contains. Probiotics are beneficial gut bacteria that fight harmful bacteria and regulate the immune system. If you don’t like yogurt, consider taking a probiotic supplement to fill this important nutritional need.
2. Some swear by rolling in germs…I say avoid them.
Am I right or wrong here? Some people swear by the fact that exposing themselves constantly to germs strengthens their immune systems, but these are likely also the same people who seldom get sick in the first place. If you know you’re more prone to catching colds, and if your symptoms always seem to be worse than the average person’s, take preventative measures — however drastic they may seem to other people. For me, this means spraying doorknobs, wiping my laptop with Lysol wipes when I bring it home from the office, sanitizing my hands before every meal I eat out, and placing my phone in a UV light cleanser like this cheap one on Amazon once I’m back inside for the day.
It might also be a good idea to begin asking friends and relatives whether they are healthy before getting together this time of year. To some people, colds are no big deal, but if you know that they seem to stop you in your tracks and are a huge hindrance to productivity and living your life, there is no reason to feel bad about asking whether someone is healthy before making plans. This practice will definitely save you a setback or two due to sickness.
3. Get active. Get outside.
Turns out, going for a run — or brisk walk — is good for more than just an attractive physique. According to a representative of the American College of Sports Medicine, people who exercise at least 45 minutes 4 or more days of the week take up to 50% less time off from work due to illness. Even more, simply getting outside for a brief amount of time each day is extremely good for your mental health, leading to an overall reduction in heart rate and blood pressure.
4. At the first sign of cold symptoms, be proactive.
By “proactive,” I mean do anything and everything you can to prevent your symptoms from progressing…or at the very least, from becoming severe. My doctor once told me that using an allergy nasal spray, such as Nasonex or Flonase, at the first sign of symptoms may help congestion from lodging in your sinuses. I also recommend using a Neti pot, which entails boiling some water, waiting for it to cool, and then pouring into a small plastic, teapot-shaped instrument with the salt that comes in the package. After mixing, tilt your head sideways, lift the spout to your nostril, and let the warm water flush out your sinuses.
At the first sign of symptoms, it’s also a good idea to pop some zinc. While the Vitamin C claim has been debunked in recent years (it actually does very little to nothing to ease cold symptoms, but can’t hurt, of course), zinc is still one scientifically-backed source that’s known to reduce the severity of cold symptoms, and even shorten the lifespan of a cold if taken on the very first day. You can take a supplement, or check out some zinc lozenges for sore throats. Be careful not to overdo it, though — you can overdose on zinc.
Some great sources of general nutrition for cold symptoms include chicken soup, black tea with honey and lemon, and blueberries, which are loaded with antioxidants. Chicken soup, especially, is beneficial for more than just its steamy nature — according to research published in the medical journal Chest, chicken soup inhibits movement of the most common type of white blood cell that defends against infection, thereby reducing upper respiratory symptoms.
Lastly, go to bed early, or take a nap. Sleep is our most powerful weapon for strengthening our immune systems against infection, and your body will thank you for taking a day or two off from school or work to recuperate.
…I hope you all stay well as the holidays approach! Take care of yourselves, and be healthy.