6 Ways to Bounce Back from Illness Faster
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Nothing humbles a person quite so fast as getting sick. Where once you felt confident, capable, and ready to take on the world, suddenly you’re curled up in the fetal position beneath a mound of snotty tissues.
The bad news is that it’s simply not possible to snap your fingers and be well again. (But kudos to whomever patents that technology in the future!) The good news is that a few tried-and-true strategies may help you recover more effectively from illness. Whether you’re suffering from the common cold, the flu, or pretty much any other mild illness, here are six ways to bounce back faster.
Sleep a lot.
We all know sleep is important when we’re sick, but it bears repeating. Getting plenty of rest is arguably the most important strategy when it comes to bouncing back from an illness. Aim to add at least an extra hour to your normal sleep time whenever you feel illness creeping in, either by going to bed earlier or sleeping in later (or ideally both). If possible, sneak in a few small naps during the day to give your body a break and provide it with additional opportunities for rejuvenation.
If you’re sick on a workday, call in sick if possible. This is important for two reasons: It will allow your body to rest and recover without having to undertake the stressors and demands that entail going to work. And it will reduce the chances that your coworkers catch whatever you have—which would not only be unfair to them, it would also increase the likelihood of the illness circulating through the office and making it back to you when you’re in the vulnerable early stages of recovery.
No matter when you sleep, set yourself up for quality sleep with the following strategies:
- If you’re congested, sleep with your head elevated (by, for example, using a second pillow) to help keep your nasal passages open and increase the likelihood that you’ll be able to fall and stay asleep.
- Keep the curtains drawn in order to create a dark environment, which is ideal for sleep quality.
- If your family members or roommates are around, ask them to keep volume to a minimum so your sleep environment remains quiet—this is also essential for quality sleep.
- Make sure you’re prepared with plenty of layers on the bed, since your body temperature is likely to fluctuate wildly when you’re sick.
Here’s another strategy that most of us have heard before—and there’s good reason for that. Drink more water!
Staying hydrated is critical for fighting off illness. That’s because illness tends to result in the loss of bodily fluids (in the form of sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and so on), so these fluids need to be replenished for the body to maintain optimum function. Fluids are also essential for flushing out toxins from the body. Aim to consume plenty of good-for-you fluids in the form of water, sports drinks, broth, and teas. There’s some evidence that hot liquids (e.g. teas) can help thin out mucus, which makes it easier for the body to get rid of it.
When our bodies are fighting off illness, they need all the help they can get. Much of that help can come in the form of what we put into our bodies (or withhold from our bodies) in the way of nutrition. To that end, it’s helpful to keep the following pointers in mind:
- Cutting back on sugar is a great idea when you’re sick (and all the time). That’s true for two reasons: First, because sugar provokes inflammation in the body, which is the last thing your body needs when it’s already combatting inflammation in the form of infection. Second, there’s some evidence that sugar consumption may actually inhibit white blood cells’ ability to effectively fight off infection.
- Spicy foods (such as those containing chili peppers or cayenne) have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, which make them ideal for when you’re sick. As an added bonus, these spices can help clear out sinus congestion.
- In addition to spices, certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients may promise an extra boost for a struggling immune system. These include zinc, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin C, echinacea, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and probiotics.
- Those old wives were onto something: Chicken soup really is good for you when you’re sick. That’s because cooked chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine that helps calm inflamed sinuses and thins mucous. Chicken soup may also clear up congestion, soothe a cough, and reduce inflammation in the body.
- Even if you lose your appetite when you’re sick, it’s important to eat. Consuming plenty of nutrients is essential for providing your body with the fuel it needs to effectively fight off illness. If you can’t stomach the idea of chicken soup or spicy curry, consider drinking your nutrients in the form of green juices or smoothies.
- If you’re suffering from upset stomach, the classic BRAT diet is a solid option. The acronym stands for “bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast”—all of which are easy on an unsettled belly. If you fall into this camp, consider avoiding dairy, greasy foods, high-fiber foods, and salty foods, as these can all be difficult for the stomach to digest.
Gargle with salt water.
If you have a sore throat or persistent cough, this is one of the quickest ways to soothe those symptoms. Not only that, but there’s actually some evidence gargling with salt water may support the recovery process for anyone suffering from a respiratory infection.
Hit the shower.
When you’re feeling sick, it’s easy to stay bundled in the bedsheets and skip showering for a few days. But dragging yourself to the shower might actually help you recover faster. Standing in the steamy shower can help clear up congestion and thin mucus, which makes it easier for the body to expel. The hot water can also help soothe achy muscles and promote relaxation, which can facilitate getting that much-needed rest.
Keep your head in the game.
While the preceding strategies have all been shown to limit the duration of illness and help your body bounce back faster, there is no miracle cure for the common cold or flu. Be realistic with your expectations in terms of when you’ll be ready to get back to your regular schedule, and be patient with your body as it recovers at its own pace.
And try to stay positive—while it’s easy to fall into the self-pitying doldrums when you’re sick, that doesn’t do anything for your vitality. Instead, remind yourself that common illnesses such as the cold and flu are temporary, and soon enough this period of sickness will be just a distant memory.
Of course, none of these strategies are meant to be a substitute for adequate medical care. If you’re experiencing severe symptoms or your symptoms aren’t going away, don’t hesitate to seek the guidance of a trusted naturopath or medical professional. With their help and these strategies, you’ll be well on your way to feeling better in no time.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I am a guest blogger for American College of Healthcare Sciences, the Institution that publishes this blog. However, all opinions are my own. This blog may contain affiliate links. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. This article has not been reviewed by the FDA. Always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health and wellness routine.