Have you noticed how colds and unspecified viruses seem to have become illnesses that last for weeks, not days? When I was young, a cold was a nuisance for a few days, not something that keeps recurring over weeks, and if you did get flu, you stayed in bed for a few days until you felt better. Now we have undefined viruses that go on for ages, and that most people just keep going with.
I don’t believe that this is because there are more viruses: I think we are not taking care of ourselves like we used to. There are several factors in this.
- We don’t stop when we are feeling ill
We keep going and dose ourselves with tablets to relieve the worst of the symptoms. So we don’t give our bodies the chance to heal themselves. In fact, we add to the stress we put ourselves under by keeping going, which reduces the effectiveness of our immune system and means it takes longer to recover, and the virus can take a stronger hold.
- We take our illness into work
Not only are we less effective in our work when we do this, we are also giving all those we work with the opportunity to have the same illness! Viruses are contagious or air-borne, so they spread through being in the same space as others – and if those people are stressed, their immune systems are lowered, and they are more likely to be unable to fight it off.
- We live in a constant state of stress
We work longer hours, don’t take breaks, are busier than ever. This makes us more vulnerable to illness, because the constant adrenaline and cortisol we produce to deal with stress is at the cost of the health-giving hormones that support our immune system and the renewal of our organs.
So how do we stay well?
It’s obvious isn’t it!
Firstly, if you feel awful, have a day off, and doze your way through the day. Sleep allows our bodies to heal themselves and recover more quickly. One day out of work at the start of feeling bad is more productive that going in and struggling through, and eventually needing five days off! It’s also more considerate of your colleagues. And don’t say I can’t because of this meeting or that report – they can usually wait a day for you to be fit to do them properly.
And longer-term, find ways of reducing your stress, so that you have a stronger immune system, and can resist illness more easily. Take breaks in your day, give yourself relaxing activities outside work, let yourself have some breathing space!
There is little in life which is really either an emergency or a tragedy. Let’s ease up on the urgency, rush and anxiety, and allow ourselves to stay well.
(By the way, Meta is great at helping you find practical strategies for reducing your stress and caring for yourself better)