I woke up at 4am on Sunday morning with a throat as dry as the Sahara and as coarse as sandpaper. My nose felt like a bricked-up chimney. Although after a bit of fumbling around in the semi-darkness, tripping over the books and clothes that really shouldn’t be on my floor, I did manage to retrieve my black bag full of (medicinal) drugs and send myself back into a dozy sleep, it wiped me out for a good few days. I don’t know if it’s flu or a bad cold or just general run-down-ness, but whatever it is it’s left me less than 100%.
I am feeling much better now — it’s downgraded to an average cold, which I can deal with — but in order to get something positive out of the experience I’ve written a bit about immunity and recovery, in case anyone finds it useful. After all, everyone gets run down from time to time.
It sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked. I, and I’m sure many others, get very frustrated when I don’t feel well and try to push through with my daily routine in spite of what my body is trying to tell me. But actually, putting extra strain on your body means it takes longer to recover, meaning you’ll be unwell (and therefore unproductive) for far longer. If you’re feeling run down, it’s much better to bite the bullet and take a few days off to rest and recover in full, so that you can go back to working at full capacity sooner, than try to plough on. You also reduce the risk of spreading the infection to others that way.
Linked to the above, but more specific; your body heals best when you’re asleep. Have a chamomile tea and go to bed as early as possible — you want at least 8 hours, but if you’re ill it’s not uncommon to sleep a lot more than that. During a stressful period last year when I felt very weak and rundown, I went to bed at 6pm, slept for 15 hours straight, and woke up feeling incredible. Sleep is so restorative!
3. Move — but not too much
As mentioned, rest is extremely important, and you want to minimise the amount of stress you put your body under in order to speed up recovery. So it’s obviously not a good idea to do an intensive workout, especially if you have a fever as exercise would increase your body temperature even further. But gentle low-impact movement like walking or stretching, which doesn’t raise your heart rate or body temperature too dramatically, can actually be beneficial if you’re feeling up to it, as it improves circulation, gets blood flowing round the body, and releases endorphins which can improve your mood and ease pain. A lot of doctors cite the “neck” rule; if the symptoms are all above the neck, you’re probably ok to exercise, but if they’re below the neck, take it easy.
Making sure you drink plenty of water is always important, but especially when you’re ill, as it thins mucus and reduces the risk of lung or ear infections. It’s also common to lose a lot of body fluids when you have a cold, which need replenishing. Green tea and herbal teas are great too, but avoid caffeine and alcohol as they will dehydrate you further.
This might sound odd but it’s great at unblocking your sinuses and easing congestion (and it’s also good for your skin!). Fill a bowl with freshly boiled water, and lower your face over it, then cover your head and the bowl with a towel so that the steam can’t escape. Inhale the steam and feel your airways get a little clearer. Add a drop of tea tree oil to the water to kill two birds with one stone and help clear your skin. Alternatively, add a little peppermint oil if you want to feel more alert or lavender oil to send you off to sleep, as those scents are proven to trigger parts of your brain that induce those reactions.
Illness can take you one of two ways — either you don’t want to eat at all or you eat a lot of comfort food to, well, feel comforted. Evidently if you’re nauseous or vomiting then avoiding food for a while is wise, but if it’s a cold or flu then nourishing your body properly is actually really important. Avoid processed foods — particularly sugar — as these can negatively affect your immune and digestive systems, both of which are really important to recovery. Citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, omega 3 fatty acids (found in foods like oily fish, linseeds/flaxseeds, and walnuts) and healthy bacteria found in pro-biotic yogurt, will all help you on your way to feeling better. If you want something sweet, stick to fruit or super dark (preferably raw) chocolate, which is high in antioxidants and lower in sugar. Certain spices are also good for the immune system. Ginger is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbal; cinnamon actively fights pathogens and regulates blood sugar levels; turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. I made myself a deliciously refreshing smoothie from grapefruit, banana, probiotic Greek yogurt, chia seeds, ginger and turmeric, and I’m convinced that’s done me some good. I’d also recommend my green smoothie and red smoothie, if you’re looking for vitamin-rich solutions.
7. Prevention is better than cure
Obviously, the healthiest lifestyle in the world couldn’t guarantee that you’d never get ill, but looking after your health generally by getting enough sleep each night, staying active, eating and drinking well, and keeping stress levels in check, does give your immune system the best fighting chance.
I hope this has been vaguely informative/interesting, but if not I suppose that means you’re all in perfect health, so either way I’m satisfied.