I was often sickly as a teenager, and during my winter and springtime colds I relied on my family to feed me get-well soup, make sure I took my meds on time, and keep me company when I was bored of being stuck at home. But inevitably there comes a time when, for whatever reason (like moving away for school or going to camp), we’ll all have to cope with colds by ourselves. No family! No friends! Now that I’m at college, I’ve suffered through enough colds on my own that I’ve developed a set of skills to get through the experience as quickly and painlessly as possible.
1. Take it seriously.
If you feel even the beginnings of a cold—weariness, sore muscles, headache, chills—prepare yourself for the worst, just in case. Now is the time to get strategic, like you’re expecting a siege!
Check your medicine cabinet or first aid kit for vitamins and cold remedies, then go to the pharmacy and stock up on whatever you’re missing. A thermometer may come in handy, and they’re cheap, so buy one of those. Also: Tissues! Splurge on a tower of boxes that you can stack next your bed so you won’t even have to move if you don’t want to (or can’t!) later. Gather up whatever energy you have left and go to the supermarket for whatever groceries you’ll need for the next couple days. Speaking of…
2. Eat and drink well.
Stock your fridge! What, other than orange juice, is in a well-stocked fridge when you’re sick, you ask? My #1 cold survival trick is to make a HUGE amount of one simple, extremely nourishing dish and then to eat it for, like, four meals straight. It can get a little boring, but at least I’m eating something healthy without having to spend too much time in the kitchen. Chicken noodle soup and curries are good options because with most recipes, once you throw in all the ingredients, they basically cook themselves. I’d recommend my favorite soup and curry recipes, but I only use Polish cooking websites (oops). Seriously, though, any basic recipe will do! If you decide to go the curry route, I love making a spicy vegan curry with cauliflower, potatoes (surprising fact: the typical potato has more vitamin C than a lemon!), hot spices, and garlic and ginger, both of which are immune-system enhancers known for their antibacterial and antiviral qualities. No matter what you end up cooking, sprinkle it generously with chopped parsley, which is also rich in vitamin C.
Legend has it that when you have a cold, dairy makes your body produce more phlegm (UGH, the word alone is disgusting), when in actuality it only makes phlegm stickier and more phlegm-y (I’M SORRY!). Ice cream might feel good on a sore throat, but proceed with caution!
If you never go near a kitchen, or you don’t have one, go to your nearest deli or cafeteria and choose something warm (or something you can easily heat up in a microwave), full of vegetables (remember that vitamin C thing?), and liquid-based because…staying hydrated is super important when you’re trying to get over a cold! When I’m sick, I replace my regular caffeinated tea with herbal infusions of chamomile, linden blossom, and peppermint. Tea and coffee have very mild dehydrating effects, but also think about it: They’ll keep you awake when you really need sleep! My favorite magic anti-cold potion, which I keep by my bed and sip until I’m better, is a ginger-root infusion with lemon juice and honey. To make it, slice up about an inch of ginger root and throw it in a kettle filled with just-under-boiling water. When the water is lukewarm, stir in lemon juice and honey to your taste buds’ liking. Voilà!
3. Be your own parent/guardian.
OK, you’ve got all your supplies. Now comes the less fun part: Calling the necessary people to tell them you’re sick, like your parent or guardian would if they were around. If your body is giving you signals that school/work is too much right now, don’t force it through homework or a shift! If you have a job, call in sick asap, so your supervisors have time to find someone to fill in for you. Email your professors or T.A.s right away to arrange to make up assignments and tests later. It’s more important to take care of yourself than it is to try to not look like a flake, which you won’t because you’re making all the appropriate, responsible contacts! Your health, sole person who is taking care of you, should be your priority. The other person you should call posthaste is your doctor or, if you’re at school, a campus nurse, especially if you are running a fever, are experiencing sinus pain, or have enlarged tonsils—all of which are signs that you may have an infection. While you’re on the phone with the doctor or nurse, describe your symptoms, and they will help you determine whether you need to come in for an appointment.
You’ll also have to be the person who reminds you to eat and stay hydrated, makes sure you take any medicine you need on time, airs out your room and changes your clothes or sheets. You’ve got this! But basic stuff can slip when all you want to do is sleep. Write reminders for yourself and stick them by your bed. You can also use your phone to set alarms, which are especially helpful if you’re on meds that have to be taken at fixed times. If you’re taking a medication with a blister pack, use a Sharpie to write the days and times you’re supposed to have each one on the foil part on the back of the package. That’s actually an idea I borrowed from birth control packaging :)
4. Keep yourself entertained.
When I have a cold, it’s not the annoying, gross symptoms that bother me most: It’s the boredom. When you’re stuck in bed with no one to talk to, or you can’t talk because your throat hurts too much, and your eyes are too watery and achey to read or watch movies, what are you supposed to do? Seriously?
This is when I’ll try a really, really simple DIY. I don’t mind getting paper scraps stuck in my blankets, so I usually collage, but you can also opt for something less complicated and messy—like making some good old origami or yarn pompoms. If you like games but can’t play another round of Solitaire or level of Soda Saga, you can make your own game! When you’re too sick to craft, try something simple yet soothing, like writing a letter to a friend or organizing all your nail polishes by color. Being sick is also the perfect excuse to do a time-consuming beauty ritual, like a hair or face mask, or an elaborate manicure (my nails look GOOD when I have a cold).
5. Ask for help.
You can get through this on your own, but if you’re too weak to go to the pharmacy or make food, it’s totally OK to ask for help! And even though it’s “just a cold,” there’s no reason to be apologetic about it. See if your roommate can run to the drugstore, or text the girl in the dorm room next door to see if she’ll pick up some soup for you from the cafeteria. Believe me, everybody knows how much being sick sucks. And think of it this way: If someone else were sick, you’d help them!
If you’re in a new city or country and you know literally no one, ask your friends or family if they know anyone there. Social media can be really helpful for quickly connecting with friends of friends, so you won’t have to deal with any total strangers. And if it’s an emergency, call a doctor or hospital through the local emergency telephone number…NOW!
6. Be kind to yourself.
Feeling lonesome and miserable when you’re unwell makes it even harder to get well. It’s a vicious circle! Our bodies are not always 100 percent reliable, but going easy on and being patient with yourself, inside and out, throughout your cold will help it turn back into the trustworthy flesh-vehicle it is. Treat yourself to a long bath with essential oils, or even a little inexpensive, impulsive online shopping (it’s not an unnatural cold remedy). Don’t beat yourself up over missed deadlines or your messy room because you just completed a really difficult task—you got through a nasty cold, all by yourself. ♦