Top 7 Tips to do when you are sick

Being sick sucks.
There I said it. Being sick. It sucks. Your body aches, your throat is sore, you’re coughing up half a lung making your chest cavity shake. And then the sneezing which may restart your heart each time, sends your head into a dizzying, painful headache orbit. And let’s not forget about the snot. Stack loads of this opaque gellified mucous blocking up your nose, your sinuses stopping you from breathing properly and making your head feel like at least 25.5kg of solid heavy weight on that little neck of yours.

Yeah, being sick sucks. Big time.

But on the upside – coz there is always an upside – being sick is your body giving you a loud, smack-in-the-face sign that something is not right in your lifestyle. Your immune system has taken a hit and is struggling to bounce back. Your white blood solider cells are fighting hard against the pathogenic bacteria and/or viruses but hey let’s be honest, their dying too: hello mass-snot-production. You need to take time to reflect what is lopsided. (For me it’s work, it usually is work. Evidently all work and less play makes Anneline a very sick big girl.)

For me, the worst thing about being sick is this: I have to look after myself. I absolute hate getting sick when I’m not at my parents’ place (I only dislike getting sick then, different to hate). It is the absolute pits to be sick and have to look after myself. I don’t have my family/close friends nearby to make sure I actually eat and stay hydrated with soup and lemon or ginger tea, or drive me to the doctor, or rub Vicks on my back, or make sure I actually have clean PJs after sweating through 3 sets a night. I usually work really hard at preventing myself from getting fully unwell. I’ll start drinking Lemsip at the slightest tickle, hop onto throat lozenges and drink even more hot water than usual. I can’t afford to get sick – time off work is one thing. But I really hate that I have to actually do the adulting when I don’t physically, mentally or emotionally feel like adulting. For an adult that is not very adultish when she’s sick. All I want to do is sleep, hug my hot water bottle and eat soft liquorice and boiled peanuts. But being sick is basically your body telling you something is not right. You’ve (i.e me – Anneline) neglected me (i.e. my body), Anneline. And I (i.e. my body) can’t go on anymore.
So when you are sick, there are things you really should do to speed up your recovery. Things you should to do give your tired body the love it needs to get back to being healthy.

1. Sleep.
This comes naturally for me. I love my sleep. I am one of those adults who need to sleep for 7+ hours, ideally 8.5 hours, to function in a semi-polite and somewhat human capacity. Any less for a prolonged period, I become a hermit and all around me are walking on thin ice. Like most folks, I also get sick when I don’t sleep much. Why? Because the body regenerates during sleep. If we’re not sleeping much, we’re not allowing the amazing machine that the human body is to recover, replenish itself and regenerate cells. We’re not allowing the immune system to run an inventory check and recoup. Hence when you get sick, try to sleep as much as possible. Get naps in there. If you can, take time off work to just sleep. You’ll bounce back a lot faster.

2. Rest: The gym can wait
You’re body is fighting infection from bacteria and viruses. Your immune system and lymphatic system (i.e. drainage system) are under a lot of stress working hard to get on top of the infection that is causing damage. Your excess production of mucous, snot, phlegm is evidence of that: dead white cells that have died fighting and killing infectious bugs and viruses. Your internal system needs all the help it can get. Exercising while you’re unwell will inadvertently cause more stress on your already stressed out body. Let the workout rest. While you rest.

3. Hydration
It is so important to stay hydrated. Drinking water – hot, cold, lukewarm, sparkling or still: whatever floats your boat – just drink up. I have a 500mL flask that I fill with plain hot water and sip on it all day in between bouts of sleeping. I don’t like to leave a mug next to my bed as it gets cool, dust in it, etc. This flask really helps me to stay focused on drinking. Funnily while I drink hot water, I also desire ice water, something I usually don’t like. I have 2 x 500mL glass bottles in the fridge. As soon as finish one, I fill it up and pop it in the fridge while I start on the next bottle. One of my favourite drinks when I’m unwell is fresh grated ginger (10 cm piece) steeped in 1L water on very low heat till it is dark and fragrant. I add the juice of 1 whole lemon and ¼ cup honey. Half I store in the fridge as an ice-ginger tea. The other half I leave in the saucepan and top up with water and ginger over the day – keeping it warm. Let’s be real, when you’re sick your tastebuds are a bit desensitised – you need flavour. So if sports drinks is what you desire, go for it. As long as you also balance it with water as well. Non-caffeinated teas, light soups and diluted juices are great too.

4. Become a hermit: Take time out from work.
Ditch all sorts of physical and mental stimulation (work included). You’re doing no one a help turning up to work coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose. Work places are like day care centres for grown ups: lots of people stuck in an enclosed space for a bunch load of hours. It’s the perfect environment to spread germs and goo. Plus, you won’t work at your optimal if you’re unwell. And lastly, you’ll drag out the cold, flu, bug for longer than you should have if you just rested. Trust me: 4 weeks of working while sick has done no-one a favour, especially not me. My body finally shut down and my doctor listened. Now I have been forced to as well. 5 days off and I’m able to get through a day without coughing and sneezing 90% of the time. Things are looking up.

5. Eat. Within your body’s limits. But eat.
A well-meaning friend heard my horrid voice over the phone and kindly offered to either send me prepared meals or a cook for a month. Why? Because I stop eating when I’m unwell and my naturally petite frame loses weight real fast. I’ll be honest, when I’m unwell I’m an absolute shocker when it comes to eating. Full stop. Forget nutrition, just getting food in is hard work. Any food, all food. My throat is sore. My stomach is sore. My nose is sore. My eyes are watery. My ears are sore. I’m weak. And my lack of eating is definitely not helping improve the weakness. At any given moment, I always have fresh veggies in the fridge, punnets of berries and individual serves of plain Greek yoghurt. There is always a bottle of kefir and some eggs. My pantry always has cans of tuna, salmon and oysters, a couple of packs of 2-minute noodles, plain whole grain crackers and cup-a-soups (which I usually use for stock in a big pot of soup). I also have frozen meals ready to go (usually for days I’m really busy and don’t have time to cook) and frozen fish portions that require only the oven and 15mins. As much as eating is a chore, my buddy’s concern for my wellbeing snapped me back to reality. I have all the tools I need to make a nutritious meal. I just need to do it. An oven tray, a fish portion and some chopped up veggies: meal done in 20mins while I have a shower. A pack of 2-minute noodles mixed with a can of tuna, ginger, garlic and chillies and fresh veggies: meal done in 10mins. A tub of yoghurt and a handful of berries: meal done in the time it takes to wash the berries. For most of us, when we’re unwell our eating habits become unwell too. Good nutritious food is important at the best of times. But even more so when you’re unwell. It actually takes a lot of energy to be unwell. So eat up.

6. Moderate your body temperature
Keep warms close, but be able to shed if you have to (not if you feel like it). I was in a hot sweat the other night, but shivering. My body was hotter than usual and all I wanted was to hug my doona and turn on my electric blanket. Against my natural desire, I drank some cool water, unplugged the blanket, took some Panadol, got a damp face washer and placed it on my face til the medication did its thing and brought my temperature back down. I didn’t want to drink water. I didn’t want the cool face cloth. I wanted more clothes, more layers and more heat. But my brain was conscious enough to know what I should do. Moderate your temperature consciously, even if your own internal thermometer is fluctuating.

7. Check in with the experts of “sick”
While I actually am a doctor, full title with the proper certification to prove it, I specialise in nutrition and food. I do not specialise in general infections, bone breaks and prolonged snot-production. I should’ve seen a doctor a lot earlier than I had, like 4 weeks ago. If I had, I wouldn’t have needed to take 4.5 days off from work and may not have needed a long dose of antibiotics. But I did eventually listen to my body. And sought help from the expert of “sick”. 6 days later, I’m feeling so much better. Not well, but on the way up. Plus the medical certificate adds more credibility to the ear-shattering coughing that I’ve been doing.

Hope this helps. Keep the sniffles away. But if they do get the best of you, self-love is the best thing you can do for yourself.

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