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By: Dr. Afiniki Akanet, author of Life Without Coffee (Choosing Happiness Over Stress)
Posted on: Feb 26, 2019

Avoid These Flu Season Fails

The memories of summer seem so far away as we face the realities of winter after Christmas. The lights and decorations are gone. School has been back on for weeks, and routine has set in. There is hardly any talk of parties at the workplace, as we try to hit targets for the new year. It is easy to forget the simple things while we try to refocus for the year ahead. People sniffling and coughing around us remind us that it is flu season again, and we really hope we won’t have to spend time off in bed. No one likes being ill, so here are some tips to help you get through the winter months.

Keep warm and hydrated

If your mum was anything like mine, you will remember how much fuss she used to make about wrapping up warm ‘so you don’t catch a cold’. These days, we know about viruses causing disease, and often choose ‘fashion over sense’, but I believe there is some truth in what mum used to say. Constantly exposing ourselves to low temperatures can reduce our immunity to germs we come across and make it more likely for us to get ill. It is wise to wear several layers, so we can make adjustments when indoors, especially if visiting different places throughout the day. Think about ways to ensure that you do not forget your winter scarf, gloves and/or hat, even if it means keeping different sets at work, in the car and at home. People often forget to drink the recommended two litres of water daily in the winter, because they are not sweating much. Keeping hydrated is helpful for fighting infections and staying healthy.

Remember hygiene

Hand-washing has been proven to be one of the best ways to control the spread of infection. This is important whether you are coughing/sneezing, or not. Our hands come in contact with germs on surfaces and handles throughout the day, so it is important to wash them properly regularly. You can also reduce spread of germs by disinfecting equipments and worktops regularly. This will also help with reducing the spread of other viruses which cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Maintaining good hygiene not only protects us, but also others who often share small spaces with us. Seek medical attention if you develop unusual rashes or flu symptoms, and check easily-accessible public health infection control advice for your condition (and local area) online before returning to work or school when ill. Some childhood illnesses, such as scarlet fever, which are more common in the winter, require a short period of exclusion from school. It is possible to protect other household contacts from getting ill by maintaining good hygiene in the home.

Don’t misuse medication

It is easy to take unnecessary self-medication in flu season because healthcare services may be less readily accessible due to winter pressures. Flu causes worse symptoms than the common cold, but is also caused by viruses, so antibiotics will not help treat flu or common colds. People often get frustrated when advised by doctors to just rest and increase fluid intake while their bodies fight a virus naturally. Antiviral medication is not always needed for flu, and simple paracetamol can be enough for managing fever. It is important to seek medical attention when unwell if you have underlying chronic conditions, such as asthma. You may be given ‘rescue pack’ medication to keep at home, so try to understand when exactly they are to be used, so that treatment is not delayed. Most healthy young people will not need to have flu vaccinations to get through this season, but be sure to get yours if your doctor advises you to do so. This is particularly important for elderly people and those with chronic health conditions. People are often keen to take vitamins and herbs this season to boost their immunity, but it is better to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle all year.

Don’t forget mental health

You may already be feeling that it is no longer the ‘season to be jolly’. The dark mornings and cold nights can make it hard to enjoy life in the winter. People often complain about feeling ‘tired all the time’ and ‘depressed’ by cloudy weather. We all miss the lovely summer sunshine, but if you find that your mood is significantly low this season, it is advisable to see your doctor, especially if low mood or anxiety is stopping you from carrying out your usual daily activities. You can help look after your mental health in the flu season by doing regular exercise, having some hobbies and a good social diary. Organising things to look forward to at the end of the week/month can make summer’s return feel sooner than expected. Going out at the weekends may feel like a big effort, but seeing friends and family can be good for your mood. Look out for others who might be more vulnerable or needy this season, and offer a helping hand. Volunteering can help you feel better about yourself, and help others to feel less lonely or ill this flu season.