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Sick Day

Whether you’ve got a cold or a flu or any kind of blah, here’s how to make the most of your next one.

Illustration by Marjainez

Ever since junior high, I’ve been an overachiever, an over-scheduler, and a perfectionist, so I’ve always dreaded getting sick. There was always so much to do—tests, essays, theater productions, big games, major plans with friends, and so many deadlines (god forbid I get docked points for handing something in late)—that I couldn’t afford to be slowed down by illness. If anyone so much as sniffled or coughed in my vicinity, I would stare daggers into them, whip out my hand sanitizer, and then avoid them like the plague they were literally carrying. If I were the one to sneeze, or, worse, feel a sore throat (my number-one most guaranteed symptom of a cold) coming on, I went into panic mode: obsessively probing the lymph nodes in my neck for signs of swelling (never mind that all that pushing and prodding created that very symptom), and popping vitamin C and Zicam Cold Remedy tablets like a fiend. I did anything and everything to avoid being laid up and missing all the VERY IMPORTANT STUFF I was convinced was going on all the time, all around me.

Lucky for me, my mom is not just a very wise person, but also an actual nurse, and she taught me that none of my neurotic “prevention techniques” were nearly as effective at minimizing the effects and duration of a cold as simply lying around for a day or three. When I started to look at lolling about doing nothing as a proactive defense against minor illnesses, and not just giving up all my beloved activities, I gave it a chance—and it became, funnily enough, one of my favorite activities of all.

When you’re sick, your body is asking you to stay home, take a break, and rest—so the first thing I’m urging you to do is listen to that message. When you’re not operating on all cylinders, you can’t do your best at school or work or all those extracurriculars anyway. It’s better to just call in or send an email admitting that you’re being attacked by legions of germs, and asking how best to make up the work you’re missing. My mom would add that going to school/work/band practice/whatever and hacking and snotting all over everyone is not just unfair, but also gross.

Another important thing my awesome mom taught me is the concept of preventive sick days, for when you’re in a state that makes you vulnerable to illness—you’re exhausted, sleep-deprived, and feeling run-down. Maybe you aren’t technically sick, but you don’t want to get sick either. Just pretend you already are—in fact, tell people that you are—and take some time off.

While I’m specifically talking about cold treatment and prevention here, the following suggestions can apply to other physical ailments as well. If you have an injury or a chronic illness that’s flaring up or threatening to, rest and relaxation is just as important. No matter what ails you or what ailment you’re trying to prevent, make the most of your sick day. It doesn’t have to be lonely and boring; it can (and should) rejuvenate you.

Here are some tips that have helped me make the most of my sick time:

  • Get (or preferably make someone else get) the remedies of your choice: for a cold, either active or imminent, I prefer the aforementioned Zicam and vitamin C. I used to be obsessed with Airborne too, but due to my cold-prevention obsession, I got burned out on all the flavors and eventually found drinking the weird effervescent fruity liquid a bit gag-inducing. If it works for you, though, use it.
  • Since you’re at home, though, you don’t have to take all the stuff that makes you stop sneezing and coughing, unless it’s really annoying you. Otherwise, just arm yourself with Kleenex (I recommend the kind with lotion to save your poor little nose) and let that grossness work its way out of your body. Get/request some good magazines while you’re stocking up on your remedies, too. You’ll want those later.
  • Once you’re fully stocked and medicated, SLEEP. Whether you are sick or trying to prevent an illness, sleep is the best medicine, and if you are constantly going-going-going, chances are you don’t get enough of it. Spend as much time as you possibly can during your sick day(s) asleep. You may have some crazy fever dreams, but just roll with them.
  • I’m gonna sound like a mom here, but, as proven in my case, sometimes moms are right: drink a lot of water, tea, and other liquid substances. Staying hydrated is important no matter what, but especially when you have a fever, have diarrhea, or are vomiting—in all of those cases your body is relinquishing lots of fluids, which can muck up your bodily operating system (including the part that controls your temperature). In addition to plain old water, I recommend Traditional Medicinals tea. They have a seasonal sampler that includes remedies for all your symptoms (though their Gypsy Cold Care is a good catch-all). Add a lot of honey to make your throat feel better. Juice is fine, and I love those bottled fruit smoothies, but know that a lot of juices have more sugar than vitamins, so read the label carefully if you’re looking for something to get you healthy again and not just something to satisfy a craving (nothing wrong with that, either, though). If you want maximum healing, fresh-squeezed orange juice is a good bet; for zinc (which is also good for colds), eat some yogurt, cashews, and/or almonds. If you also want maximum efficiency, or your stomach is too upset to eat very much, take vitamin C and zinc supplements. Finally, Nurse Mom says hot liquids are best when you’re sick. “They open your sinuses, help the mucus drain, and soothe your membranes.” (That is an actual quote, hence words like membrane…)
  • Eat what appeals to you. Feeling better is partially mental, so eat what you crave when you’re sick, especially if you’re nauseated and the list of things that won’t make you puke is short. Chicken soup is what everyone recommends, and it’s got that good hot-liquid thing going for it, but I never want chicken soup when I’m sick (or rather Amy’s No Chicken Noodle Soup, since I’m veg). Instead I always crave Vietnamese pho, or Thai tom yum or tom kha kai. These soups tend to be on the spicy side (awesome for sinus clearing) and contain garlic and ginger, which natural-health practitioners say are good for fighting colds. (This hasn’t been proven scientifically, but I’ll try anything if it won’t hurt me and I like how it tastes.) Dishes that have no purported healing properties whatsoever, but are your personal comfort foods, are also important during your convalescence. Mashed potatoes is my go-to comfort item; lots of my friends swear by cold pizza. Also: candy! Candy is medicine. (And if you have a stomach flu, my mom recommends ice chips and mint tea rather than water, because they tend to be easier to keep down. Also: dry toast, canned fruit.)

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66 Comments

  • Mary the freak December 13th, 2012 3:09 PM

    OH YES. This may sound stupid, but my mom is having this no-I’ve-got-too-much-to-do-I-won’t-stay-at-home-I-am-not-even-sick thingy, and I hope this article will help her. <3

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • Kimono Cat December 13th, 2012 3:22 PM

    I like reading manga when I’m ill. It’s mostly pictures, and all of the dialogue is written in a pleasingly large font. Skip Beat! is my absolute favourite thing in every single context ever.

    • Blythe December 13th, 2012 5:58 PM

      HELLO FRIEND SKIP BEAT IS AWESOME.

      • Kimono Cat December 14th, 2012 6:49 AM

        I KNOW!!! Whenever I read the latest volumes I virtually cannot breathe because of the AMAZINGNESS!!! KyokoxRen forever!!!

        • Blythe January 21st, 2013 6:10 PM

          I kinda just want Kyoko to be like “Fuck all you boys, you’re all idiots about me, I’m going to go be an independent actress lady see you in twenty years.”

  • Abby December 13th, 2012 3:22 PM

    Man, I wish college classes were lax enough that I could just skip them… :(

  • Claire December 13th, 2012 3:33 PM

    I always crave those frozen jalapeño poppers with cream cheese when I’m sick. So weird.

  • 1tsplove December 13th, 2012 3:33 PM

    Dudes, everyone must read up on vitamin D therapy. Many naturopaths recommend it as an alternative to a flu shot (and studies have proven its more effective than the flu shot anyway). I used to get sick alll winter long, but NO LONGER!

    Usually people do it at the beginning of the winter, but I’ve also noticed it works if you do it once you actually feel yourself coming down with something.

    Try it and witness the magic for yourself!

    • Blythe December 13th, 2012 5:59 PM

      What if I want to stay home sick.

    • Abby December 13th, 2012 7:42 PM

      Since I’ve been at college I’ve only gotten sick once, and I credit VitaminWater, seriously. I used to get sick all the time but this semester I didn’t… there’s a lot of vitamin c and d in the one I like (and drink all the time), so I guess that’s why….

  • i-like-autumn December 13th, 2012 3:39 PM

    I do school at home so I never really get a break from school, even when I’m laid up in bed! (Well, maybe there’s a plus side to that somewhere….)

    Autumn
    http://www.i-like-autumn.tumblr.com

  • Libby December 13th, 2012 3:42 PM

    Thank you for this! My mum is a nurse too, and actually forces me to take days off school sometimes (YES!) because I am so easily burnt out and worn down. This happened on Thursday, actually. I was so exhausted and dizzy and emotionally unstable that I was sobbing silently in second period, and I said I felt ill and went home and slept all afternoon!

    I step away from the computer completely, which is in the draftiest and most uncomfortable part of our house, and just curl up under piles of blankets on my sofa with a bad film and a good book.
    I do worry about missing out on school though; I text my friends asking them to either photocopy their notes or ask the teacher to give me a copy so that I don’t worry about completely missing everything.

  • mickeyf19 December 13th, 2012 3:42 PM

    Okay. Rookie. This is scary.

    I never get sick, but I did yesterday so I stayed home from school. I NEVER STAY HOME FROM SCHOOL. BUT I DID TODAY. AND YOU POSTED THIS ARTICLE TODAY. Does anyone…I mean can we just take a moment to acknowledge this coincidence? SERIOUSLY YOU GUYS ARE LEGITIMATE MAGICIANS.

    Since I had basically recovered by just after the time I would be going to school anyway, I got to enjoy the day. I watched the Today Show and played piano (I played Mumford & Sons, not Beethoven, like I need to! Ha, take that mom and piano teacher!). Next time I’ll do more arts and crafts, I didn’t even think of that!

    Also, @Stephanie (I think that works… not sure though…) I enjoyed your Parks and Recreation ‘enjoy yo’self’ reference. I ACTUALLY CAUGHT A REFERENCE. Thank you for that.

  • O. December 13th, 2012 3:54 PM

    Finally someone who understands that preventative sick days are not the same as bunking school! Because I take more than most of my friends because I struggle to cope with the stress of my school (another perfectionist over here) people think I’m just being lazy. SCHOOL GENUINELY MAKES ME ILL!

  • kimberleighrc December 13th, 2012 3:55 PM

    My awesome mom has always been an advocate of “mental health days,” as she calls them. Sometimes a day to yourself really does help you get back on your own two feet when stress/exhaustion/depression/anxiety/etc. knocks you down.

  • Megara December 13th, 2012 4:09 PM

    Reading this while home from school. C:

  • Bree December 13th, 2012 4:16 PM

    If you don’t have a fever, I recommend exercising, especially swimming. It alleviates the “ughness” feeling, and, in the case of swimming, clears your snot out (gross, but it feels so much better than having it run, stuff, and sneeze it’s way out).

  • soretudaaa December 13th, 2012 4:30 PM

    Bahaha it’s nice that this article came precisely on my “reboot day” (which I plan on extending to a reboot month…). Also, I got into all of my current favorite comedy shows (like Arrested Development and The Office) on sick days.

  • soviet_kitsch December 13th, 2012 4:40 PM

    Spicy food is THE best thing for me when I’m sick. My last cold I ate nothing but rotisserie chicken and potatoes with spicy sauce and was instantly able to talk without a sore throat, and it was only my second day. :3 Hot tea, lots of rest, and spicy food are the best things ime.

  • annika December 13th, 2012 5:06 PM

    ILY ROOKIE thank you so much for this article! I always ignore symptoms before getting really sick because-SCHOOL,HOMEWORK,RESPONSIBILITIES. I’ll follow this guide next time, haha.

  • katrina December 13th, 2012 5:11 PM

    Love this article, I just finished a final exam today and it has definitely turned into a reboot day.

    However, I have to advise, I would NOT suggest taking Zinc without having had a meal before. Your body will reject it.

  • GlitterKitty December 13th, 2012 5:34 PM

    Sick days are actually the best thing ever. Usually when I get sick it only lasts for a few hours so everyone always thinks I’m not sick. But I am! One of my teachers and school principal have actually told us to come to school when we’re sick because “you’re not contagious when symptoms are present” which I say is complete bullshit. If you’re sick, stay home. It’s not that big of a deal. My personal favourite sick food is chicken curry, it clears everything right out. But if you have an upset stomach, it is a very very bad idea. I also love watching bad TV movies when I’m sick!

  • Tangerine December 13th, 2012 5:38 PM

    There are a number of good tips in this article, except for one, and that’s endorsing/using the very first product you mention by name, Zicam. Even if you yourself are aware that Zicam and other “homeopathic remedies” work mainly by placebo, your readers may not be. I think it’s important to remember that more effective zinc supplements exist, and that putting zinc in your nose is dangerous (not to mention, pointless), and leads to loss of smell.

    • NotReallyChristian December 13th, 2012 7:40 PM

      Thanks! I wouldn’t have known it was homeopathic if you hadn’t said so.

  • Flyer December 13th, 2012 5:49 PM

    Regular Kleenex used to make my nose all red and sore when I got sick so I switched to the lotiony kind, but then the lotion would get all over me AND MY GLASSES, which EW I don’t want to deal with when I’m sick. Then I switched to handkerchiefs and now not only do I look classy when I whip an ironed one out of my pocket in a pinch, but my nose is (unexpectedly) unirritated.

    So: HANDKERCHIEFS FOR ALL! They can be found all over the internet or in some men’s clothing stores, often in three-packs. They’re more environmentally sustainable than Kleenex and you don’t need to add lotion for them to not chafe your nose/face parts. And they come in many pretty patterns…

    http://www.amazon.com/Boxed-Fancy-Ladies-Cotton-Handkerchiefs/dp/B002WO7BJU

  • thebrownette December 13th, 2012 5:54 PM

    NYQUIL IS QUEEN OF THE COLD MEDICINES. Also try adding boiling water to 1 T grated ginger, a dash of cayenne, a bit of honey(preferably raw!) and half a lemon’s juice!

  • Kathryn December 13th, 2012 6:01 PM

    I LOVE THIS! Stephanie’s articles are always super awesome and helpful.

  • Blythe December 13th, 2012 6:04 PM

    Since I have a chronic illness I tend to take at least two sicks days a week. Shall keep this stuff in mind next time!

    • maddyr December 15th, 2012 4:57 PM

      Chronic illness kids are the best at sick days. We have this stuff down to a science.

  • Harley December 13th, 2012 6:08 PM

    I just took a sick day from school on Monday, so this would have come in handy! I am also planning on being lazy on either Saturday or Sunday because I feel like a phone running in 5% battery, I need to recharge soon! Plus, I have final exams next week and feel confident enough in my knowledge that I don’t have to study too much, I just need a break.

  • laurenniee December 13th, 2012 6:24 PM

    Super cool tip for if you have a really sore throat/tonsilitis (I always get this when I’m super stressed) – put some water in the fridge for a while, then have a hot drink of something, then straight after, drink the cold water. It helps soothe your throat and also apparently helps kill off any bacteria that might be in there (I don’t know if that’s true but it helps). Oh and drink hot honey and lemon. And gargle salt water.

  • NotReallyChristian December 13th, 2012 7:32 PM

    I recommend my super-powered honey and lemon! Make honey and lemon with a ginger tea bag; it somehow doubles its power and makes me feel so much better when I have a cold.

  • Eryn December 13th, 2012 8:26 PM

    Definitely coming at a good time, thank you so much!

  • DreamBoat December 13th, 2012 8:29 PM

    This is perfect! I’ve actually been a bit sick the last few days, and this was the best reminder that I should take a break and slow things down! Stress and tiredness will only make me more sick, even if I’m freaking out about a project or something.

    Plus, laurenniee, hot honey and lemon is the best thing ever! UGH I WANT SOME NOWWWWW <3

    http://psychedelicdaisy.blogspot.com

  • LB December 13th, 2012 8:38 PM

    also AUDIOBOOKS! it’s like reading with your eyes closed.

  • simplebutchic December 13th, 2012 8:59 PM

    It’s really funny that this was posted today because I’m sick XD

    http://simplebutchic.blogspot.com/

  • la fee clochette December 13th, 2012 10:04 PM

    aww, this is so cosy and nice :) thankee

  • tardis-sauce December 13th, 2012 10:05 PM

    So funny this appeared today! I got the flu literally two hours ago and will not be going to school tomorrow. At least it’s a Friday, so I won’t be over-whelmed with makeup work. I’ll be spending the day listening to podcasts and watching Netflix.

  • spudzine December 13th, 2012 10:26 PM

    This is really helpful because all winter long I get super sick every day, so this’ll help me tons :)

  • jenaimarley December 13th, 2012 10:33 PM

    ARE YOU ME?
    IS YOUR MOM MY MOM?

    omg this is fantastic. Once I make myself actually take a rest day.

  • aliastro December 13th, 2012 11:32 PM

    Boomerang for gmail will send an email at a scheduled time for you. No need to get up and email your professor or boss or whatever if you have the flu. So great.

  • poison ivy December 13th, 2012 11:44 PM

    Top Ramen and Pee Wee Herman are where its at as far as sick days go. Also, any weird anime movies like Spirited Away. i find nonsensical movies are the best to watch when sick because nothing really makes sense, but the colors are so preetttyyy! you can just kinda zone out.

  • Kasey December 14th, 2012 2:00 AM

    I actually took a day off yesterday. My friend and I were bummed about not being cast in the musical, so we got checked out of school then got smoothies and did some christmas shopping. :)

  • Sorcha M December 14th, 2012 2:46 AM

    I miss having sick days. My agoraphobia means I stay at home all day every day and don’t move much from my sofa/chair. I tend to think of sick days as idyllic frozen moments in time when you can do whatever the hell you like and sleep all day, and I forget the icky reality of colds or the haze of a fever or the grossness of tummy bugs and just how horrible it feels to get a bout of depression.

  • crapbag December 14th, 2012 4:42 AM

    hmm. 46% of my year consisted of ‘mental health days’. It’s interesting to see what goes on over the motivated side of the fence.

  • starpower December 14th, 2012 5:02 AM

    I love this, I am a HUGE fan of the reboot day!

  • A Fox In The Snow December 14th, 2012 6:22 AM

    … or you have a mom who forces you to do work on your day off. But anyway, I never get sick so it doesn’t really matter :)

  • Isabelle97 December 14th, 2012 7:51 AM

    Aw, I just finished the most exhausting term of school and this article was like a hug :)
    Also, this is a bit beside the point but congrats for the Tavi interview in the Observer! I literally freaked out when I saw it XD

  • cloudinthesky December 14th, 2012 9:11 AM

    Haha, I always force me to go to school, even when I feel soooo exhausted. Maybe I’ll spend a day at home soon? I really need it :)
    Thank you for this article!

  • raggedyanarchy December 14th, 2012 9:35 AM

    AH! I love sick days! My mom lets me have “mental health” days sometimes, usually after I have a major stress-related break-down.
    But I get sick a lot. I just tend to get every illness that goes around, and I stay home when I’m sick. Other people are like “but you’ll miss all sorts of stuff,” but I’ miss it even if I was in school, because I’m sick! I used to get really bad migraines in middle school, and the nurse would always just say “just take a Tylenol,” when Tylenol doesn’t work on migraines and I needed to go home. So I just started calling my mom and skipping the convincing-the-nurse-I’m-not-faking it speech.

    And how did you read my mind? I was just longing to call sick and go home to sleep. Although that may have less to do with school-related stress and more to do with being tired (midnight The Hobbit premier anyone? Totally worth the lack of sleep.)

    Side note: a little bit (Little! Bit!) of whiskey and honey in your hot tea is amaaazing with sore throats and sinus problems. A little trick I learned from my mom.

  • Dayzee December 14th, 2012 12:43 PM

    THANKYOU for publishing this the day I go back to school after being ill. Really, my timing is the worst. (sick on the day of my birthday party as well)

    but really, someone needed to write this.

  • gracied December 14th, 2012 7:43 PM

    Totally agreed on the preventative sick days. One time I was in the middle of a project and got up early as planned but just felt like crap, so i went home at noon and (unexpectedly) slept for six hours. I woke up and felt like myself again. It’s like if you’re running at a sleep deficit, your body’s just telling you “HOLD UP”, and you should listen to it.

  • Hannah December 14th, 2012 10:46 PM

    I love this article as much as the one from a while back about how to have a skip day. Mental health days are the most important things ever to me, and I honestly try to sneak one in once a month. After exams in January, for me at least, I’m so taking an extra day off because like, school stinks sometimes.

  • Jolie December 15th, 2012 1:04 AM

    Harry Potter and tamales are always must haves for me.

  • damdayy December 15th, 2012 2:17 PM

    Watching Donnie Darko has turned into a sick day tradition for me. With your mind groggy from illness this movie feels even more impossible to understand. And I LOVE it.

  • thecoolcustomer December 15th, 2012 2:54 PM

    Could of done with this for the last 2 weeks!
    thecoolcustomer.wordpress.com

  • Bumblecake December 15th, 2012 4:43 PM

    This is so awesome and true! Whenever I’m sick I’m like no I WILL go to school and then I WILL work after school and then I will go for 4 mile run even if I cant breath through my nose and I come back crying from pain and breathlessnesss and I will revise for every single exam possible. My mum also showed me that this was not right so I took the day of school but I still just did work all day and exercise and walked the dog and cleaned the house and I REALLY paid for that I didn’t get better for weeks!

  • Yayo December 15th, 2012 6:52 PM

    I’m also a huge advocate of the ill-days-for-the-not-quite-ill. They’re great.
    I feel like I have the opposite problem – I’m not an over-achiever (neither am I anything of a under-achiever), I’m just… an achiever. I always get super high grades in the exams or coursework that counts towards something (ie: my actual GCSEs) otherwise I take it easy.
    I miss at least a couple of days a month, I’d say (and my philosophies on homework are pretty… controversial; sadly my teachers are in no way accommodating towards them)

    But then again, just thinking about Malala Yousafzai makes me feel like a fucking awful privileged bitch. I could cry in shame at her quote ‘I don’t care if I have to sit on the floor. I just want an education’.

  • ivoire December 17th, 2012 3:16 AM

    I am the most unproductive, lazy person even when I’m NOT sick.
    I envy you Stephanie :C

  • velouria December 17th, 2012 8:07 AM

    princess bride. it cures cancer, anything.

  • carogenous December 18th, 2012 2:00 PM

    Best home sick cure is having a cat to laze around with! Become the cat. Channel the cat’s energies into not moving and sleeping for 15+ hours. I’m lucky enough to have a cat who will literally stay by my side and hang out with me all day long whenever I’m at home.

  • HypnoPants December 20th, 2012 4:48 PM

    PERFECT! I love you so much, Rookie. I have had “mental health” days as well, but I not much anymore because I changed my situation and am not depressed as often.

    Everyone at my school has been sick (every one means 37-ish out of 50 kids in the past month). Some take time off school, others don’t. I luckily didn’t get sick . . . until now. It’s not really sick, though. My throat just feels like I’m going to cough when I breathe in and my nose is a bit stuffy/runnny. AND I have a school holiday program where I have to sing (unrelated, but the boys who are singing can’t carry a tune AT ALL. Grrr!). But yes, sick days are amazing when you need them.

  • a-simple-desultory-philippic December 28th, 2012 2:45 PM

    I love sick days- they do help me to recharge and I’m an antisocial person really (I just prefer my own company!) – but my friends are swots. It’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but it seems that they think I’m weak or something when I take a day off even if I have a legitimate reason like an illness (though most days have been mainly to recharge etc as I’m in my final year and under a LOT of pressure). I wanted to go to an open day for a college about a month ago and because it was on a school day my friends were all disapproving and said I should go on the weekend as I’ve missed a lot of days although I haven’t really, just more than they did! It was so frustrating because I really wanted to go and I was going to be really busy all weekend and unable to attend the college… it really annoys me, because I need these days off and although I’ve never cared how people thought of me before, with this situation it’s different as they’re my friends and I’m a bit shocked at how hard they’re working and how seriously they’re taking it all. It’s a serious thing, but there’s such a thing as too much studying, as this wonderful article so aptly describes.

  • Turrtle January 3rd, 2013 12:59 PM

    This article is golden. Although I rarely get sick, I’m totally using this next time I do get sick.

    Netflix is like, amazing. Now that it has Freaks and Geeks, I’m just.. at a loss for words. Last time I was sick, I started watching Downton Abbey on there, and I was hooked.

    Like I said, I rarely get sick, and I highly doubt my mom would ever let me stay home from school for a relaxing day (although I’ve never asked………..maybe I’ll give it a try after AP exams in May?), I will SO have to remember this article, because it’s amazing.

    http://turtleswhirled.blogspot.com/

  • whyamidreamingwhenimstillawake June 5th, 2013 12:58 AM

    Yesss. I’m off school sick right now. Thank you rookie.
    Seriously. You have telepathic powers.