“The first wealth is health.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
A friend of mine invited my husband and me to her home for dinner and told us how to she’d already gotten sick and fall hadn’t even started. My husband, who struggles with staying well, can always relate. We started chatting with her about strategies to avoid getting sick.
So often we feel like our health is out of our hands. I know I’ve been guilty of being annoyed at the coworkers who show up in the office while they’re ill or when someone with a chronic cough sits behind me on the bus. Great, I think. Now I’m going to get sick.
But I rarely do. And if I come down with something, I bounce back within a day.
So, now that fall is here and we’re venturing closer to some of the busiest and most stressful times of the year, I’d like to suggest a few things that you can do, things that you’re in control of, to avoid using sick days.
1. Pay Attention to Your Hands
When I was in high school, I worked for a woman who told me she hadn’t been sick in years. This lady had kids, worked insane hours and smoked cigarettes, to top it all off.
What was her secret?
She was mindful about her hands. She washed them throughout the day.
It wasn’t a compulsive behavior. She was very thoughtful about when she did it. Of course, there were the obvious times, like after using the bathroom or taking out the trash. But she also washed them before eating, drinking or having a snack.
And it wasn’t just about keeping her hands clean, she told me. She consciously tried to keep her hands away from her mouth, nose and eyes throughout the day. Germs aren’t as potent when you keep them outside your body.
I’ve been employing this strategy for years. Sometimes I’m better at it than other times. When there’s a pastry tempting me, it’s hard to tell myself to stop and wash my hands. And I often rub my eyes. But, just being mindful keeps me in check and keeps me less susceptible to illness.
2. Monitor Your Calendar
A lot goes on in the fall and winter times. We celebrate with friends and family, even travel great distances to see them. It’s hard not to become exhausted from obligations. With weekends filling up already, I’m keeping an eye on my down time. If I’ve got a commitment on Saturday, I make sure to keep Sunday free. And, for whatever reason, I always overbook myself in February, so I made a note this year to take it easy with that month. The key with this, however, is balance. I’ve heard from numerous health professionals that socializing actually improves the strength of your immune system, so you don’t want to go full-on hermit.
Keep track of your commitments and prioritize.
Don’t be afraid to say, “Let me check my calendar and get back to you,” when approached with an invite. No one expects you to respond right away. And that invitation to an acquaintance’s holiday party? You know, the one who invited her entire Facebook “friends” list? You can skip that one. Your body will be glad you did.
3. Eat Your Veggies
The fact that diet affects your ability to fight off infections and keep you healthy may seem like a no-brainer to many people, but I think it bears repeating for a few reasons. This time of year we’re bombarded with loads of delicious—but not often nutritious—foods. As if that didn’t make it hard enough, depending on where you live, it’s also a tough time to find local, fresh produce. All those tantalizing fruits and veggies aren’t tempting you from farmers markets once the snow and cold weather comes.
However, you can find lists online of produce in season in your area, or get to know your local produce workers. I chat with the folks in my grocery store all the time. It’s how I’ve learned how to pick out a pear and that mixing baby spinach with my arugula salad will make it much less bitter. They’re happy to point me toward what’s freshest.
Make an effort to have at least one serving of fruits and vegetables at every meal, and aim for two. The nutrients your body receives from those will keep you going throughout the cold and flu season.
4. Stick with a Routine
Our bodies love routines. We say we’re creatures of habit, right? The more you can eat, sleep and exercise on a schedule, the happier your body will be. I know when I fall asleep hours past my bedtime or sleep in late, my body reels from the change for days.
The same thing happens if I eat lunch hours late. I become full at dinnertime, and my stomach grumbles right when I should be brushing my teeth and hopping into bed.
Most of the time, it’s not that big of a deal to send your body a little out of orbit now and then, but if you pair that with a bug you’ve been fighting, suddenly your energy is divided and the stress on your body can manifest into illness.
Be kind to yourself. Go to sleep and get up around the same time as often as possible. Eat your meals on a schedule. Exercise in a predictable fashion. Giving your body a stress-free environment keeps it in tip-top shape, ready to defend you and keep you healthy.
5. Stay Hydrated
Our bodies are mostly water and, in my opinion, it’s one of the most important and strongest elements out there. Water can wear away stone, put out fire and permeate air. Keeping your body full of this essential element gives it its most important cleaning tool.
I went to Las Vegas for a convention one year and came home sick as a dog. I couldn’t figure it out. I went to bed at a reasonable hour. I worked out every day. I ate well. But I noticed I couldn’t get enough water. After a few days of restoring my body, drinking loads of water, I felt much better.
Water may not be the most exciting drink, but it’s totally worth imbibing. Squeeze some lemon or lime in it for a little flavor and extra cleansing power.
And, of course, you don’t always have to drink water. If you can get your hands on watermelon, even better! Fruits and vegetables have loads of water in them, and when you eat those, you’re adding nutrients as well.
The amount of water a person needs varies depending on their size, activity level and other considerations. I generally aim to drink about 10 eight-ounce glasses every day.
You can find water calculators online to tell you how much your body needs to perform at peak levels and keep you fit and healthy.
6. Keep a Positive Attitude
When I first met my husband, I always said to him, “I never get sick.” And while there were a few exceptions, it’s been mostly true. I just don’t think I’m going to fall ill. That’s not how I roll.
I’ve read that optimists tend to get sick less, handle stress better and generally are healthier. That’s definitely a perk of keeping your disposition pointed toward the sunny side.
When you wake up, do an inventory of your body before you get out of bed. Mine generally goes something like this: I’m rested. My head feels clear. These muscles hurt—good job on a productive workout! If I notice my throat is sore or something feels off, I make a plan to deal with it during the day. I’ll plan to drink tea with honey, up my water intake or go to bed earlier than normal that night. That puts my mind at ease, knowing that I’ve dealt with the problem before it becomes an issue. I know it’s nothing to worry about. And by the next day, it’s usually gone.
If your attitude is positive and your outlook optimistic, often times your body will follow without much question. Just be on the lookout for denial symptoms. I’ve been guilty of telling myself I’m fine and pushing myself too hard when it was inconvenient to be ill.
Optimism is one thing. Blinding yourself to sickness is completely unhealthy, so be aware that it can happen.
Our body wants to keep us in a healthy, predictable stasis, and if you just give it a little help, it can go a long way to staying there. When you take control of your health, you clear the way for other things in your life, like evolving your personality and soul, which can always use more energy directed their way.
Rebecca Watson is a Truth Advocate and Soul Connection Coach who supports women who’ve dealt with trauma and abuse to find and express their truth in harmony with their soul. A recovering journalist, Rebecca uses journaling and writing as a tool to teach women who feel unheard, broken, and misunderstood to listen to their own truth, trust their instincts, and connect with the divine part of themselves. You can read more of her work and learn more about her coaching programs at sunnysanguinity.com.