When the Bug Catches You

If you’ve read this blog for more than five minutes you know how important it is to try to live well and prevent illness as much as possible. You know, WASH YOUR HANDS.  Eat well, exercise, get plenty of good quality sleep, oh, and did I mention? – wash your hands. A lot. There be GERMS out there!

But it happens to the best of us. Run hard as you can and sometimes the cold and flu bugs still catch you. Now what?

MIND: Don’t panic. For the vast majority of functional human beings, a cold, even the for-real flu, you know, the actual flu-flu, is not a huge deal. A week or two of misery, maybe, but not a disaster of asteroid-headed-to-Earth proportions.

The first place to use your awesome mental capacities is to figure out if it is a cold or the for real flu-flu-flu. Syracuse University created this handy-dandy comparison chart for their student health services: http://health.syr.edu/education/cold-and-flu.html. Basically if it starts in an eyeblink, makes you too tired TO blink, you have aches in body parts you forgot you had, with a fever…it is in flu territory. For this, you might want to consult your doctor. If you are interested in using an antiviral medication, then you have to get there and start the medicine within 24 hours of the symptoms starting or so (your doctor can tell you if it is too late or not). Dave Barry  developed this handy-dandy description of how it feels to have the actual flu-flu: http://articles.philly.com/1986-04-02/news/26079798_1_electric-blanket-molecules-toothpaste. I recommend his article whether you are sick or not.

On the other hand, if you feel it coming, have a sore or scratchy throat (less common in flu), are tired but not decimated, and have no fever, then you are squarely in chicken soup territory. Keep an eye on it, choose your home remedy, and consult your doctor if things get worse, linger, or develop a fever.

BODY: Truth is, very few medicines will touch a virus, and the few that do exist are worthless unless you start them in that precious first day time frame. Antibiotics are worthless if you have a virus only. So what’s left? Chicken soup? It’s not as bad of an idea as you might think.

Drink plenty of fluids, be it chicken soup or tea with honey or whatever non-alcolhol form you choose (with all due respect to the “two hat cure” of yesteryear). Fluids not only will sooth your scratchy throat, but they help keep the buckets of mucus you’ll be producing thin and easier to cough and blow away.

Go ahead – take a nap! You know you want to! A lot of people a lot smarter than I am have done some complicated studies to prove that sleep really does improve immunity: (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/). Explaining the hard-science part of that is enough to make both of our eyes cross, so you’ll just have to trust me on this one. Good sleep really is a healing thing. An October 2013 article in Science Daily talks about new studies linking sleep deprivation to genuinely serious diseases like diabetes and heart disease. So if sleep can impact your health at that level, imagine what it can do for a nose-sniffle.

Vitamin C, zinc gluconate and Echinacea (as long as you are not allergic to ragweed type plants) can help boost immune function. Like their mainstream medicine counterparts, Echinacea especially, they are most helpful in the first day or two of a cold.

Plain water or mild salt water (1/2 tsp salt per 8 oz water) gargles can be soothing as well as help  reduce the number of viruses lingering in the back of the throat by a tiny bit. A 2005 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows plain water gargles  can help prevent minor upper respiratory illness. I’ve tried it this year with plain water and only twice a day – so far, so good *insert wood-knocking jinx-preventing superstition here*.

Diffusing real essential oils like eucalyptus can help un-stuff your nose. Pine is a good alternative if you don’t care for the scent of eucalyptus.  Anecdotally, a blend of orange, cinnamon, and clove oil is antiseptic (and smells like the holidays). A dilute topical lotion with eucalyptus oil (like Vicks) can ease muscle aches and thin mucus (follow package instructions).

SPIRIT: We all know that colds and flu are really caused by viruses. Stress and lack of sleep can make us more susceptible to those viruses. That is the scientific process…but what is there to be learned from the experience of it? Is there a spiritual componant to something as straightforward as the common cold? Accpeted wisdom in the holistic world is that these minor illnesses are a lesson and an opportunity. They teach us where our limits are…just how much stress and sleep deprivation we can take. These minor illnesses bring a message that we’ve pushed to hard, gone to far, and that something is for-real going on with us. They are also an opportunity. Nobody wants your germs. Colds a flu are a perfect reason to disengage, stay home, rest, recuperate, and re-group…both mentally and physically. While you are slurping OJ on the couch binge-watching your favorite tv shows, it gives you a chance to see what is stressing you. Feed your soul a little while you are feeding your tummy that chicken soup. Where are you over-doing it? How can you just-right-do-it from now on? What in life is making you sick – figureatively as well as literally? How can you make that better too?

What do you do when the bug catches you? Use your mind to know when it is time to see the doctor, treat your body well with rest, fluids, (and herbs, aromatherapy if you like), and feed your soul a little something special too.

Be well and Best Wishes