Surviving the Holidays When You’re Under the Weather
There are ways you can take care of yourself and still cross tasks off your holiday to-do list.
By Mikel Theobald
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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The holiday season is a time to create memories with the people you care about, but it often means an overflowing calendar of events. Festive gatherings at your child's school, family dinners, home decorating, and shopping excursions can be exhausting, even if you're the picture of health. Add a holiday cold or the flu into the mix, and you may just be knocked off your feet and left wondering how to enjoy parties and successfully tackle your to-do list. Taking care of yourself with these tips will help you enjoy the season when you have a cold or the flu for the holidays.
Upgrade Your Diet
If you're feeling under the weather, step one is to improve your diet. Abstain from holiday cocktails since alcohol can reduce your body’s ability to fight infection. Opt for lots of water instead, says Marcela Espinosa, MD, an internist in Huntington Beach, Calif. Fill your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables to benefit from their assortment of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Foods that contain omega-3s and magnesium are good building blocks for health and for reinforcing your immune system, says Shilpi Agarwal, MD, of One Medical Group in Los Angeles. Try fatty fish such as salmon or trout to get a healthy dose of omega-3s. Almonds and spinach are both great sources of magnesium.
“Warm liquids like hot tea and soup are also soothing if you feel congestion or a sore throat coming on and can be a good way to get in more liquids,” Dr. Espinosa adds.
Should you take supplements? “There is mixed evidence of specific supplements in terms of immune-boosting,” Dr. Agarwal notes. Some people find vitamin C to be helpful during cold and flu season, but more studies are needed to make a direct link, she says. According to a 2010 review of 29 clinical trials involving more than 11,000 people, taking vitamin C regularly didn’t reduce the chance of getting a cold, but did result in a modest reduction in the length and severity of cold symptoms. However, this was true only for people who had been taking vitamin C, not those who started only after they developed a cold.
Zinc is a nutritional supplement that's viewed as a potential complementary approach for reducing cold symptoms once they've appeared. Taking oral zinc within 24 hours of the onset of cold symptoms helped to reduce the length and severity of the common cold, according to a 2011 review of 15 clinical trials involving over 1,300 people. Zinc can cause side effects, so don't take it without consulting your healthcare provider.
RELATED: 8 Ways to Help Your Family Stay Healthy When Someone's Sick
Pace Yourself to Limit Stress
If you’re feeling ill, it’s important to dial down activity. Overexertion makes recovery take longer, Agarwal explains. Ask for help with holiday cooking, decorating, and gift-wrapping responsibilities so that you can rest as much as possible. “When we sleep, our body works hard at restoring and repairing itself,” she says. As a preventive measure for healthy family members living with you, getting enough rest can be the difference between their getting sick and being healthy after exposure to a virus, she adds.
Also limit stress as much as possible since stress can affect the immune system. Espinosa recommends making lists of things you need to do or buy and checking them off as each task is completed. Prioritize in relation to how sick you feel – aim to achieve only the most important tasks. Agarwal points to online shopping as a way to avoid the chaos and stress of a trip to the mall.
Know When to Stay Home
Even though it can be disappointing to miss a holiday party, other guests will appreciate the fact that you stayed home when contagious – no one wants to get sick, and you don’t want to be responsible for getting anyone sick. “If you have a fever, definitely stay home,” Agarwal says. “This is important for you and for others around you.
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