We all know when cold & flu season breaks out because it’s first noticed at work. The first coworker to call out sick in the fall is the early warning system that the cold & flu storm has arrived. Soon, a cascade of coworkers call out sick and seemingly only half to two-thirds of your coworkers are “in” at any given time.
Last year was also a year of heavy ups and downs in Maryland weather, something which I’m told wears down your immune system because your body keeps having to adjust to drastic changes in temperature. Despite this and the yearly plague outbreak at work, I have managed to stay cold and flu free for over a year now. (The only sickness I got was food poisoning, I’m pretty sure.) I’ve definitely felt colds coming on, but I’ve successfully fought them off in less than 24 hours every time. I wanted to share the tips that I believe helped me do this…other than prayer!
Zinc lozenges. I’m a huge fan of these now and take them all the time once the weather starts to get cold. The most popular brand is Cold-Eeze. According to the packaging, zinc is a mineral that kills cold germs when it comes into contact with them. So, sucking on a zinc lozenge a couple times a day kills cold germs in your mouth, thereby reducing the number of cold germs in your body taxing your immune system. I definitely credit these with saving me from the onset of many a cold. I move them around in my mouth, including under the tongue, so that they contact all areas of my mouth, wherever the germs may be hiding.
Sleep and take naps. I made it a real point to get as much sleep as I could and to never get less than 7.5 hrs of sleep a night. Obviously I fell short of that sometimes but I took it very seriously, knowing that sleep is the best way to fight off a typical sickness. This also means when you feel something coming on, take a nap as soon as you can. And when you’re sick, don’t lay in bed watching Netflix and don’t play video games or even read. Those things still tax your body to some extent and just delay recovery. Just sleep. If you can’t fall asleep, just keep lying there, eyes closed, and eventually you probably will. I can’t stress sleep enough. I went into many a nap feeling like something was attacking me, and woke up from the nap feeling completely normal. SLEEP!
If you have trouble sleeping in general, you can try what I use, which is an over-the-counter sleep aid called diphenhydramine. On the package it will just say something like “Sleep Aid” or “Sleep Aid PM” but the active ingredient of diphenhydramine is what to look for—it has been very effective to me. Of course, make sure it’s something you can medically take without any issues. A few things to note about using it: It’s best to take it 1.5-2 hours before you actually lay down to sleep because that’s when it really starts to kick in, and it will kick in pretty hard. It usually gives me 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, maybe getting up for the bathroom once but then falling right back asleep. However, it will make you groggy when you wake up, especially if you have to get up before the 7-8 hours of its effects are over. The grogginess is very noticeable and not fun, but it’s worth it to me for the deep sleep, since natural sleep aids like melatonin have never been very effective for me.
Related to sleep is the need to sleep in warm clothing. Last year I began the habit of sleeping with a beanie on my head. I had never done that before, and it seems coincidental that I also didn’t get sick. I’m now a huge believer. Most of the heat that escapes your body does so through your head and feet. So sleep with a hat on when the weather is cold or your house is cool, and sleep with heavy socks on. Also, the part of your body besides those two to focus on keeping warm the most is your chest. I will often fall asleep with my arms folded on my chest, circulating additional body heat in my chest area. This conserves heat and helps your body exert less energy to keep your chest (where your heart is) warm. So to review, sleep in a knit hat, thick socks, and focus on keeping your chest warm.
Flu shot. The last couple years I have started to take this seriously after my dad leaned on me about it. They are usually no more than $10 at your local pharmacy or grocery store, and might even be free under your insurance. Yes, I don’t like needles, and yes, the site of the shot hurts for a few days. But this is a small price to pay for the misery of flu symptoms like vomiting, severe aches and pains, headache, and others, not to mention using up sick time at work and unexpectedly having to buy Gatorade, Sprite, chicken soup, etc. especially when you don’t feel like going to the store or you have to ask someone to go for you because you keep throwing up. Short of a medical reason to not get the flu shot, you should get it. I know there is always a chance you get a different flu than the one the shot is designed for, but reduce your chances of getting any flu by getting the shot. I try to get it no later than mid-November because it takes a few weeks for your body to adapt to the dead flu virus contained in the shot. You want your immunity up and running by the time all the Christmas parties and travel stress arrive. Really, getting it as soon as they start issuing it, which I think is mid to late October, is best.
Vitamins. I have no way of knowing if they actually contributed to being illness free, but I spend a little extra (you can get a good deal at Costco) to take multivitamins all year and a vitamin C supplement specifically during fall, winter, and early spring.
Stay hydrated. Hydration is always important, but it’s especially important when your body is exerting itself trying to ward off all sorts of germs. Drink plenty of water. Generally your water intake is optimal when your urine is clear or close to it.
So there you have it, some tips I used last year, and will be using in perpetuity, to keep myself illness free. All that time spent not being sick is time you can spend on other things that are important to you. So make use of these tips, and best of luck this fall & winter.