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I thought I would add a self-care checklist for when you’re sick to my library of self-care checklists! I’ve written a couple before: there’s my self-care checklist for depression and my quick self-care checklist which is more general.
However, the past couple of weeks I’ve had both a rotten cold that has gone to my chest (seriously, I cannot shake this irritating cough) and conjunctivitis. Feeling sick is such a complete PITA. It’s never convenient, it’s both exhausting and boring, and you pretty much just have to wait it out?
However, there are a handful of things which can help you both feel better and take care of yourself when you are sick. Here’s the checklist version:
Self-Care Checklist for When You Are Sick
Do these to help fight off those viruses!
1. Get as much sleep as you can (aka take a nap)
Our bodies are better at fighting viruses when we are asleep. Apparently you get a better fever response when you are asleep, plus you produce more antibodies!
Whilst I normally advocate keeping a strict sleep schedule, especially if you have issues with insomnia, being sick means you need more sleep. So take a nap, go to bed earlier, and get a lie in.
When I was sick, I had a really poor nights sleep due to coughing. Normally, I get up at 5.45am to get ready for work, but last Friday I got up, sent my boss an email that said ‘I need more sleep’, and then went back to bed. I slept until 11am and then I went to work. Honestly, I did more in that one afternoon of work than I would’ve done all day if I had dragged myself in.
Don’t be afraid to prioritise sleep! We are a generally over-stimulated, over-worked culture that tends to compromise on sleep. But lack of sleep makes us feel worse and keeps us sick for longer.
So go take a nap!
2. Drink hot honey-and-lemon
As a kid, whenever I had a cold or a sore-throat, my parents would make me a hot lemon-and-honey drink. As it happens, the science backs them up! The NICE guidelines for GPs were updated in August 2018 to encourage treating a cough with honey. Various studies demonstrated that people given honey coughed less often and less severely… which is pretty awesome, given that honey is much tastier than most medicines!
Put a dash of lemon juice (freshly squeezed or from a bottle) and a squeeze of honey in a cup, then add boiling water.
Super simple. Super effective.
3. Drink water
Fever, sweating, vomiting and diarrhoea can all make dehydration more likely. Plus, losing your sense of taste when you’re sick means you are less likely to eat and drink as much as you normally would.
To counter that, make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids. Sugary beverages are inflammatory, so stick to plain water, or water with a slice of lemon.
4. Take vitamin C and zinc
Vitamin C and zinc both play a role in your immune system. Whilst the jury is still out, the general view at the moment seems to be that a combination of vitamin C and zinc taken together can shorten the duration of a cold.
You can buy a supplement* with both.
As an aside, Vitamin D also seems to play a role in helping prevent you from catching colds in the first place. So whilst it won’t help you feel better once you’ve got it, it’s worth taking it if you live in a country with relatively little sunshine!
5. Breathe in some steam
If you’re feeling particularly snotty, congested, pleghmy or coughing a lot, breathing in hot steam can help relieve your symptoms.
The traditional way is to fill a basin with boiling water and then drape a towel over your head and sit over it to breathe in the steam.
You can also take a nice hot bath or a hot shower, both of which produce steam that can help relieve congestion and warm you up if you have the shivers.
A hot bath has the added bonus of soothing sore muscles. Since colds can bring on aches and pains, and coughing can hurt your abs, a hot bath is definitely one to consider.
6. Eat some soup
Chicken soup has a long tradition of being the best thing for a sick person to eat. And there does seem to be some evidence for it! Chicken is rich in carnosine, which can reduce the feelings of congestion, and bone broth contains glucosamine which can protect the lining of our gut.
However, lots of the benefits come from the garlic, onions and vegetables that are also part of a traditional chicken soup. So if you are vegetarian or vegan, don’t worry! Here’s a recipe for an immune boosting vegetable soup, that contains a ton of benefits for when you’re struggling with a cold.
If you’re not a vegetarian, here’s a recipe for a more traditional healing chicken soup.
7. Wash your hands (and your towels)
Viruses are… well, virulent. They spread easily, living on our hands, our face, the surfaces we touch, our towels, our pillow cases and so on.
So whilst cleaning your house may be low on your list of priorities when you’re feeling sick, do try and chuck your clothes in the washing machine more regularly than you might normally. Throw away used tissues, wash handkerchiefs, and only use a towel once.
Avoid touching your face (I know, I struggle with this one) and wash your hands regularly throughout the day with soap.
And if you’re around someone who is sick, washing your hands regularly significantly reduces your chance of catching something.
8. Take some medicine
Whilst we still don’t have a cure for the common cold (maybe we will soon?) some medicines can help you feel better.
Achey, have the cold sweats, or a fever? Then NSAIDs (iboprufen) can help.
Cough? Try an expectorant (to make it easy to cough up mucus) or a cough suppressant (to help stop a dry and tickly cough).
Struggling to sleep? Night Nurse is a triple whammy that relieves pain, congestion and coughing, and helps you fall asleep.
9. Distract yourself
The only thing worse than having a cold is sitting around feeling sorry for yourself that you have a cold. Whilst you can and should take it easy, making sure you have some distractions on hand will help you focus on something other than how you feel.
Now is the time to catch up on that TV series you’ve been meaning to watch, or indulge yourself guilt-free in some escapist reading.
10. Take a shower and change into clean pyjamas
One of the things that usually happens when I feel sick is I wear pyjamas all day! They are comfortable and warm, and I can go take a nap without having to worry about getting changed.
However, it’s easy to start feeling gross if you wear the same clothes all night and all day. So my biggest tip is to take a hot shower, take your meds, and then change into clean pyjamas. You’ll feel fresher, lighter and happier. You’ll be less likely to spread your germs! But you’ll still be able to chill out comfortably in bed or on the couch.
Plus, changing into clean pyjamas sends yourself a signal – I am choosing to relax and take care of myself. That’s much better than just feeling too bad to do anything and feeling vaguely guilty about it.
What do you like to do when you feel sick?