- Watch a lot of TV. I fully believe that television is just as important as sleep when you’re sick or avoiding sickness. I find reality shows ideal for sick-day viewing, because they’re usually pretty mindless and it won’t matter if you doze off. You may crave comfort TV as much as you do comfort food, so look up your favorites on Netflix Instant and/or Hulu. I always find myself needing to rewatch episodes of My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks (now on Instant!), and Degrassi when I’m under the weather, because they are soothingly familiar and nostalgic for me. I avoid really scary/trippy things (no Walking Dead or zombie movies) because of the crazy-dream potential. Comedy, on the other hand, is excellent on days like this, because wooziness makes things extra funny. There is really no better time to get stuck in a YouTube wormhole than on your sick day. Note: avoid using the internet for anything other than entertainment. Being sick is the time when you get to enjoy being antisocial, so take a Facebook and blogging break.
- Read, but only if you want to, for your own pleasure. During the super headache-y and tired first phase of a cold or flu, I can’t even deal with words on a page, so I stick with TV. Eventually, though, I get antsy and want words instead of moving pictures. I have to be very careful at this stage not to listen to my impulse to catch up on studying, or work. RESIST THE URGE TO BE PRODUCTIVE. This is a time for Star magazine and Vogue and Tiger Beat (there’s a 1D issue on the newsstands now, you can count on it), or for that tasty book you’ve been saving for when you got your work done, or your millionth reading of Harry Potter. Indulge in reading material the same way you would in food or TV.
- Once you are feeling relaxed and maybe a bit restless, but still not quite ready to re-enter the world, it’s time to treat yo’self. This is when I pull out my nail polishes and go to town with some DIY nail art. My last sick day was right before Halloween, so I went with monster nails. Nurse Mom advocates using this time to take care of your feet, too. We’re walking and standing on them all the time and rarely get any special treatment—they deserve a pedicure, a massage, or a soak in Epsom salt.
- If you’re into baths, take a long one, and add lavender to the water—it’s a great scent for relaxation.
- In your final phases of recovery, do something creative but easy. Put photos in an album or make a scrapbook. Knit or do a T-shirt DIY or another one of Amy Rose’s crafting-for-dummies suggestions. You have all those magazines, you read them, now turn them into a collage.
My mom, in her infinite wisdom, also taught me about another kind of sick day, one that is just as important to you and the people you interact with on a daily basis—the kind you take when you’re not really sick, or at least not in the full-body, germs-are-attacking-you way. This is a day you take off because you just finished a big project or final exams and you’re feeling run down; because you need to rest up for some busy-making stuff on the horizon (holidays, moving, whatever); because you haven’t gotten enough sleep lately; because you’re exhausted, stressed out, burned out, or just plain tired of doing things that you have to do day in and day out. It’s a way to recharge yourself and take care of your brain and body—if you don’t give yourself a break every now and then, you will get sick, so if it helps you not feel guilty, you can think of this as preventative care. Let’s call this a reboot day.
The first thing to do is to tell people that you’re taking a day off. If your parents or school or boss won’t approve of your staying home when you’re not physically ill, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pretending you are—to me that’s the kind of lie you sometimes have to tell to give yourself what you need—but if your ethics on this matter differ from mine, “exhaustion” is not just the excuse every celebrity’s publicist offers when a client goes to rehab, but also a convenient catch-all symptom that has the added advantage of being actually true for just about anyone in high school or college. (And, totally off the subject, but did you know that “upset stomach” is something that can’t really be disproven, and that if you hold a thermometer near a light bulb it will increase the temperature on the display [don’t let it go above 102 degrees or you’ll probably be taken to a doctor]?) Anyway, your mental health is at least as important as your physical health, and if you’re feeling really worn down and stressed out, you are sick, so you’re not even lying. If you can call/email to announce your absence the night before, you’ll get to sleep in the next day, which is a key part of your reboot day.
What you do after waking up whenever you damn well please is totally up to you. But what you absolutely must not do is use this day to do anything that might be construed as “work”: running errands, catching up on homework or email, cleaning your room, etc. You are also not allowed to do anything for anyone else: no giving your little brother a ride to soccer practice or washing the car. You wouldn’t do those things if you were really sick, would you? Spend your day doing whatever rejuvenates you. If your parents are cool with it, you can spend it at the movies, or the bookstore, or a museum. You could go shopping, take a walk through a nature preserve, or get a massage. If you have to stay home and “play” sick, then build yourself a fort and self-medicate with books, TV, and comfort food—just like you would if you did have a cold. I made a list of stress-relieving activities for Rookie last year that can double as a range of options for a reboot day.
If your school year has been rough so far, or you’re just sick of being surrounded by people, don’t hesitate to take a whole week off to recharge during your holiday break. There are more than enough craft projects, YouTube videos, and books out there to keep you entertained for seven days.
Whether you’re physically ill, mentally/emotionally undone, or just sick and tired of being a functioning human being in the world, do whatever it takes to get you back on your feet. This is your time. Do what you want with it.
And get well soon. ♦