I’ve been sick a lot this winter. Minor stuff, but enough to be annoying and prevent me from being my best self. I may get a week or two of good health, but inevitably, I’ll start to feel a tickle in my throat or a pounding in my sinuses – tell-tale signs that I’m coming down with something. Again.
I don’t need a crystal ball to tell me why I’m getting sick. I have young kids who bring school and daycare germs home.
They cough in my face, sneeze on my phone, and steal sips from my water cup. Good thing they’re adorable. I also work in an open workspace, and even going to Target this time of year is like stepping into a petri dish of viruses (No offense, Target, I still love you).
For years I’ve just accepted this as a part of life. But one day, as I was writing an email to my team saying I’d be working from home that day because I was sick, again, I realized that I was really fed up. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and by golly, I was going to do something about it.
Doing my research
On paper, I’m healthy – no major medical issues, my cholesterol and blood pressure are great, I eat decently, and I’m not (that) overweight. So surely I could figure this out and stay healthier.
I started to ask around to find out what other people did to prevent getting sick, or to make that sickness go away faster. I got some really interesting advice from my fellow Blue Cross NC employees. I chose some of my favorites to share with you.
Please note that I am not a medical professional and you’ll obviously want to do your own research and perhaps even talk with your primary care physician before trying something new.
What my coworkers said:
Try apple cider vinegar for good health. Make sure you use a brand like Bragg’s, according to several co-workers. To make it more palatable, Jamie in HR mixes it with honey, cinnamon, lemon juice and hot water. She says it’s especially helpful for sore throats! Bonus points for local honey, which may help with seasonal allergies.
Drink lots (and lots) of water. Christy, our wellness manager, says to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. Spoken like a mom of two toddlers, she also says to eat your fruits and veggies! And try to “move” for 30 minutes a day – even just a walk to get your blood flowing and to get some sunshine.
Manage your stress levels. Dr. Larry Wu, one of our medical directors, says to check your moods and make sure that any depression is managed. He says that optimum stress management improves the immune system and allows for better sleep (also super important for staying healthy). Make meaningful and authentic time for yourself, even if it’s for 10 minutes at a time.
Consider trying hot yoga. I’ve never tried it, but my co-workers Samantha and Melissa swear by hot yoga for keeping them healthy. Samantha says that if she feels “something coming on” she’ll take a class and feel rejuvenated. Melissa says that in addition to hot yoga, she works out daily and takes Vitamin C to keep healthy, which she doubles up on if she’s going to be in a crowded space like an airplane.
Give Kombucha a try. Laura, who sits next to me and also has two young kids, picks up kombucha on the regular at Whole Foods (though you can find it most anywhere these days). She says the live probiotics in this fermented tea help keep your gut healthy, which in turn can help keep the germs away. And she loves the taste (it’s an acquired one, but I love it too).
Seeds to health? One of our social media specialists, Chelsea, includes chia seeds and hemp seeds in her morning smoothies (see her favorite smoothie recipe here). She also likes glutamine powder for both immune system and muscle support.
The Bee’s Knees. Stephanie, an RN, takes Vitamin C and a dropper full of Propolis – the “glue” honeybees use to keep the hive together — when she feels an illness brewing.
Zinc tablets. Linda, who is also an RN, takes a 50 mg Zinc tablet at the first hint of a sniffle, raspy throat or “just a general tired and blah feeling.” She takes it once a day with a meal until she’s feeling better – and she says she rarely needs a second day’s dose.
Keep it clean. One of our executive admins, Leslie, uses Clorox wipes on all common work surfaces and her own desk several times a week. She puts tissues in the common areas (copier room, break room) to encourage sneezers to use them. Another great “keep ‘em clean” tip – Juliette in our marketing department packs sanitizing hand wipes in her kindergartener’s lunch bag. Genius!
Stay away from sick people. Another executive admin, Karen, keeps hand sanitizer in her car (I do this too), and Clorox wipes at her desk. She says she’s also comfortable with politely asking clearly sick people to, “Please back up, I don’t want to be sick.” She encourages people to please stay home from work if you are contagious. I agree!
Elderberrry syrup. Jenny, a quality management consultant, swears by elderberry syrup. Her son takes a dose every morning with his vitamin, and she says he stays healthy. I’ve tried this before but my kids weren’t fans of the uniquely sweet taste (so I used it instead).
Essential oils. Communications specialist, Stephanie, uses essential oils not just for their calming aroma, but for their supposed health benefits. Speaking of herbs, Martha, a business analyst, uses an herb called Andrographis at the first sign of an oncoming illness. She says it’s similar to Echinacea, but stronger. She says she did a lot of research on it while getting her Master’s degree in nutrition. She also uses a xylitol nasal spray during cold and flu season.
Knock off Starbucks. Beverly in HR enjoys a “get well” tea drink from Starbucks, and created her own version, which is as follows: one large cup with half hot water and half steamed lemonade; one bag of citrus mint tea, one bag of peach green tea; honey to taste. She says that it helps knock the time of her colds in half. And it sounds tasty.
Flush it out. Ken in IT says that using a neti pot with saline solution makes sinuses “inhospitable” to germs. He doubles the salt when he has a cold, and also sips on some Thyme tea. To prevent the tea from tasting like “grass,” he uses lemon and some sugar.
A trio of supplements. Peter in IT says when he’s feeling under the weather, his lovely wife lays out three pills for him to take – Olive Leaf, Echinacea and Astragalus. He takes them. And he feels better, faster.
Again, I’m not playing doctor here. Do your own research, talk to your doctor, and be particularly careful when mixing supplements together or with any current medications you may take.
A medical professional’s take
In addition to asking coworkers some of their tips for staying healthy, I also spoke with Olivia Rogers, a Nurse Practitioner at our onsite employee health clinic. Some of her advice is overlapping with what you just read above, but it’s worth repeating.
Know your health. Olivia’s first tip is to be sure to get your annual physical to rule out any underlying issues, and to be well aware of your current health.
Clean, clean, clean! Since some germs can live for several days on surfaces, Olivia recommends frequently wiping down your phone, countertops, bathroom, etc. Wash sheets and towels after any illness. And of course wash your hands often!
Take a multi-vitamin daily. Olivia says not to wait until you’re sick to dose up on vitamins. Take a multi-vitamin daily. And there’s no need to over-do it – anything excessive your body will get rid of anyway.
Don’t try and “push through it.” When you’re sick, REST. Don’t try and be a hero. Especially at the beginning of an illness, give your body a few extra hours of sleep. Getting this rest now can shorten the duration of your illness.
Olivia says however much water you’ve been drinking, double it. The science behind drinking more water when you’re sick is that it keeps secretions (think: snot, mucus) thin. The thinner the secretions, the less bothersome they can be (you know how annoying it is when you can’t breathe out of one or both nostrils?). Drinking more water also helps move the virus along and out of your system.
Olivia, who has young kids also, keeps a humidifier in every room of her house this time of year. The dryer the environment, the more inviting it is to viruses. Using a humidifier keeps the air and your sinuses moist – in other words, not as welcoming to germs.
Eat a well-balanced diet. Eat your fruits and veggies, and avoid too much sugar (which encourages bacteria growth). Also try not to drink too much caffeine. It’s a diuretic (which means it can dry you out). Sorry, Olivia, I’ve got to have my coffee.
Teach your children (how to stay) well. Teach your kids to wash their hands often, and to cough or sneeze into their elbows or a tissue. Little things like that can go a long way in preventing the spread of germs. Olivia also points to online resources like with the CDC and local hospitals, in teaching kids about the importance of health.
And then, there’s the flu
So all of these tips are great, and I hope you find some that you might implement (with your doctor’s blessing) to help keep away and/or shorten the life of minor illnesses. But what about the flu? Will essential oils help keep the flu away? I’m thinking not.
One of my children gets viral-induced respiratory issues, so this year’s flu (and news reports about H3N2) pretty much terrify me. Read Dr. Wu’s blog post about the flu, and know the facts. Per Dr. Wu: “If you have any degree of fever and cough get tested for influenza, even if you have had the flu vaccine for 2017-18.” Take precautions seriously, and know when you should to go to the doctor for treatment.
My bottom line
All of Olivia’s and Dr. Wu’s advice, I’ll surely follow. I’ll be better about keeping things cleaner at home and at work, drinking more water, and getting better sleep. And I’ve already had my family vaccinated from the flu and will do my best to avoid it.
As far as the advice from my co-workers, I ordered some essential oils from a reputable company (one blend that’s an immune booster, and one blend that’s for respiratory issues), and I also ordered some nasal spray with Xylitol. I also will definitely be trying Jamie’s apple cider vinegar tea, and Beverly’s citrusy tea recipe.
I already take a multi-vitamin, and I’ll drink the occasional kombucha, mostly because I just like the flavor. And maybe I’ll try and teach my kids that a tissue is much better than my iPhone, as far as sneezes go.