Tips for Staying Healthy During Seasonal Changes

16 years ago, I wrote an article on preventing and kicking colds and flus, and since then it’s been read more than almost any other article on our site. We hate being sick! But the school year has started and there’s already been one cold that has passed through our community in the past month. So, I thought I’d revisit this topic and offer some of the big-picture concepts that I believe are most worthwhile.

Attitude is everything. When I started studying medicine, one of the biggest lessons came not from a lecture or a book. It happened when one of my professors cancelled a class and I saw him walking to his car. When I said hi to him, he told me he was going home to get in bed because he had caught a cold. I had always seen this man as the picture of vibrant health, so I said, “You get sick, Dr. C?!” And he replied, matter-of-factly (even with a bit of admonishment), “Everyone gets sick.”

The difference between how I perceived him and who he really was, was that he didn’t see sickness as a sign of imperfection or weakness. And because he fully accepted the reality of whatever was happening with his body, he was all the better able to respond effectively and move through it. Our intolerance of illness tends to exacerbate it and prolong it. So, I recommend that you learn to accept sickness at the first sign so that you can take measures to support yourself.

Instead of fighting sick feelings, we can practice accepting them, breathing into them, and letting them go. In my experience, the sickness becomes less unpleasant, and the duration significantly shorter when I stop “arguing with reality.” This is what’s happening in your body. Slow down. Feel it. Can you be at peace even if you’d prefer to feel differently?

In terms of pragmatic measures, the best medicine is almost always rest. You can’t get it in a pill and I know you don’t want to stop what you’re doing or cancel your plans. But if you can rest (ideally, good deep sleep) you’ll almost certainly recover much more quickly than if you just push through it and remain active. When you sleep, you’re donating most of your energy to your immune system.

It’s essential to learn to recognize the first symptoms of sickness. Though different viruses may manifest with different initial symptoms, many people have one or two symptoms that consistently arise. Some of the common ones are a heavy, dragging tiredness that feels different than just insufficient sleep; a scratchy throat (important to distinguish from having slept with your mouth open); feeling unusually chilled; feeling unusually hot and perhaps sweaty; a headache; and a stiff neck. Sometimes you’ll notice a runny nose, sneezing, or cough, but there’s usually something subtler that came earlier. Also, there are plenty of causes for a headache or stiff neck (most commonly postural strain), so you’ll need feel what the difference is when these are due to a virus.

There are lots of useful supplements, but most of them aren’t nearly as effective in the middle of a cold as they are at the very beginning. Some of the many supplements my patients and I have found effective for infections include: high dose vitamin C (500 to 1000 milligrams every hour or two); high dose vitamin D (10,000 international units a day for adults); high dose vitamin A (25,000 to 100,000 international units a day for non-pregnant adults with no liver problems); lysine; monolaurin; arabinogalactans; zinc lozenges; probiotics; and herbs such as echinacea, osha, elder flower and berry, umckaloabo, lemon balm, garlic, ginger, yarrow, the Chinese formulas Yin Qiao and Gan Mao Ling; and many others. You can read about these in greater detail in my previous article on this topic. The key isn’t so much which of these you take as it is that you take it as early as possible. This may require keeping some in your purse or desk.  **

When there are sick people around you, it’s a good time to avoid sugar. It’s smart to minimize your sugar consumption in general, but it’s especially important when you want your immune system to function well. Many a time I felt well then had a big dessert and almost immediately began to get sick. Other times I had been fighting a cold and starting to feel better, then ate a bunch of sugar and got sicker again. Sometimes I need to learn things the hard way.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the transitions between seasons are thought to be a challenging time for staying in balance – thus, we’re more apt to get sick in these periods. So they’re key times of year to allow yourself extra resources for adaptation. Let yourself sleep more, schedule less work, eat especially well, and don’t push yourself too hard. Having consistent routines during these transitions (going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, eating at roughly the same time each day, exercising about the same amount each day, etc.) will help you manage them better.

Exercise. When you’re not actively sick, exercise regularly to keep your immune system strong. Regular exercise helps improve resistance to infection. However, if the exercise is excessive, it can be depleting rather than strengthening. If you feel exhausted after exercise, it was probably more than your system could favorably handle. When we push ourselves beyond our means, we engage stress mechanisms and consume adaptation energy to a degree that leaves us weaker than we started. I’ve had numerous patients who are extreme exercisers and also deficient in vitality. Listen to your body and learn your limits.

Keep your hands off your face. Don’t put your hands in your ears, eyes, nose, or mouth unless you’ve just washed them. If you establish this habit, you’ll get fewer colds.

Finally, I reiterate: when you do get sick, don’t argue with reality. Keep loving yourself, keep treating yourself with kindness, keep letting go of your frustration and resistance, keep accepting and allowing what you’re feeling, keep thanking your body for working hard to bring you back to balance, and keep being open to learning something through the process. What if this is your body’s most desperate attempt to get you to slow down?

Be well (and forgive yourself when you’re not),


P.S. Again, to read the original article, which goes into much greater detail on specific strategies, click here.

One thought on “Tips for Staying Healthy During Seasonal Changes

  1. Thank you for this very informative article. It is just what I needed.

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