When you’ve been in go-go-go mode from work to errands to social obligations, it can feel like heaven to spend a day or two lounging about the house. This is especially true during the hectic holiday season. But wouldn’t you rather choose to take a break rather than be forced into one that’s accompanied by body aches, fever, and the soul-depleting loss of energy that comes with being sick?
Sigh. It’s cold and flu season again.
But what can you do? Even if you’ve gotten your flu shot, you’re still susceptible to all of the other germs that are being coughed and sneezed around this time of year.
Enter your immune system. You need to support it so it can support you. How? Lucky for you that there are more than a few ways you can build resiliency.
My 5 top tips for fighting off colds
Wash your hands well (but skip the antibacterial stuff)
Bless the people who sneeze into the crook of their arms (if I did that all of my clothes would end up with awkward red lipstick stains). Even if they didn’t, your nostrils are designed to filter out a good amount of germs (and pollen, etc.).
But what about all of the things you touch during the day? That’s where the problems arise. I won’t try to list the places you can pick up germs, because, well, they’re everywhere. Don’t be alarmed. Thoroughly cleaning your hands, especially before eating, has been shown to be ultra effective when it comes to avoiding getting the latest bug that’s being spread around.
The CDC says that plain soap and water scrubbed around on your hands for at least 20 seconds does the trick. A nifty tip: While old-fashioned bar soap does hold onto some bacteria, many studies have shown that they lead to less sickness rather than more.
Antibacterial soap and wipes on the other hand aren’t recommended for the general public. First they simply haven’t been shown to be any more effective than regular soap. Worse, they can lead to antibiotic superbugs. Also the main ingredient (triclosan) is a known endocrine-disruptor and can increase your risk for allergies.
Get enough sleep—and maybe a bit more than you think you need
Sleep has a strong regulatory effect on your immune system, so you can consider it a first defense against germs. Researchers have proven that chronic sleep deprivation lowers your immune response, but what about an occasional late night or two?
It’s a complex subject but it appears that even brief bouts of sleeplessness can leave you more vulnerable to the effects of germs. The best advice is to try to get as much sleep as you need as often as possible. Occasionally go to bed earlier than usual just in case your immune system needs a boost. And if you feel a cold coming on, let your body rest as soon as you can. A nap or an early bedtime can do a world of good.
Eat more colorful vegetables
How did you know that I was going to include this in here? Because it’s my advice for almost everything! Hopefully you’re getting hip to this tip by making sure your plate holds the hues of the rainbow. All plants are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Eating a variety of them is a wonderful way to ensure that your needs are being met.
Of course you know that it isn’t what you eat. It’s what you digest. My advice to you is to take steps to heal your digestion. One easy, effective, and delicious way is to make vegetable-based soups. Especially at this time of year, they can feel very comforting. By gently cooking vegetables in liquid (bone broth is ideal, but any liquid will do) you’re also making them more bioavailable to your body and less taxing on your digestive system.
Step into the sun
You know by now that your body converts sunlight into vitamin D. This vitamin (which is actually more of a hormone) definitely supports your immune system. Interestingly, the latest research has determined that the sun benefits your immune system in ways that are independent of vitamin D.
You may be concerned about skin cancer or photoaging (read: wrinkles, sunspots, etc.). Cover up areas that are exposed frequently, such as your face, decolletage, and hands. You can use sunscreen and/or high-tech things such as hats and gloves. But I encourage you to let other parts of your body get some time in the sunshine whenever you can. If it’s too cold for that, even ten minutes of walking around without sunglasses has been shown to have beneficial effects.
Laugh it off
Do you know about laughter yoga? People gather in groups and…wait for it…laugh. Sounds silly and it is—but that’s the point. Studies have shown that the physical act of guffawing upregulates your immune and hormonal systems. Belly laughs can decrease your cortisol levels. Also connecting with others is a proven way to lower your sense of stress.
How many times a day do you really laugh? If you’re like most adults, it happens 17 times. Sounds okay, right? Well, children supposedly laugh 300 times a day. Don’t let the kids have all the fun! Seek out things that make you laugh, as well as practice seeing the humor in situations your normally wouldn’t. One caveat: Try not to laugh at someone else’s expense. (Unless someone trips without hurting herself, because come on…it’s just funny.)
Take care of yourself! You can make it through the holidays without getting seriously sick. But if you do succumb, know that these tips will also help you get over it more quickly.