Last Friday night I woke up in the middle of the night with the beginnings of a sore throat and that achey, sicky feeling and I literally panicked. I had watched one friend after another go down with the horrible flu plague that seems to be hitting everyone and up until that point I had been so proactive about staying healthy and doing everything possible to not get sick. I was determined to not let the sickness win and the next morning I started doing every possible thing to fight it. And for the days that followed, it truly did feel like a fight. I could feel the sickness lurking under the surface of my body and certain symptoms would pop up from time to time, but overall, I actually felt pretty decent and never fully succumbed to the full-blown flu. I was winning the fight.
I know there are things that are totally out of our control sometimes and no matter how many preventative measures we take, we still get sick. But I also believe that so much of our health is in our hands, and as proven by my crazy health crusade this last week, we actually have the ability to keep ourselves from getting sick, or at the least, significantly cut down on the symptoms we experience. Since I am always making an effort to move towards more natural and holistic ways of living, I thought I would share some of the remedy swaps I've been able to make - with similar if not better results than resorting to over-the-counter drugs filled with all kinds of chemicals. I haven't fully given up NyQuil or Ibuprofen yet, but I'm hoping to keep moving in that direction and believe that simple, natural ingredients are actually the best things we can give our bodies.
Self Care Basics
Some of these are obvious and common knowledge, but I know enough people who forget to follow these basic guidelines (including myself), that they bear repeating.
- Get as much sleep as possible. This is when our body heals, so it's so important to sleep for as many hours as humanly possible when you're feeling sick.
- Actually take a sick day. Our always-on work culture makes it really tough to break away, but resist the temptation to even do the "work from home" half-assed rest/work day and just let yourself TRULY rest. You'll end up needing less time off in the long run and the more you can conserve your energy and allow your body to rest up front, the better.
- Minimize or remove sources of stress. Stress keeps our nervous system in a heightened state and suppresses the immune system so it can trigger or prolong sickness if you're not intentional about finding ways to unplug and de-stress while trying to heal.
- Drink all the water. Fill up on all the water and healthy liquids you can. Specific beverage recipes are down below.
Detox Your Bod
When you're sick, there's a build-up of toxins in your body, so the more ways you can try to flush those out, the better.
- Gargle with warm salt water. Mixing a half tsp of salt with a glass of warm water and swishing it around in your mouth and gargling with it in the back of your throat (without swallowing it) helps to draw out the excess fluid that builds up during an infection and also reduces swelling and kills bacteria in the throat and mouth. Plus it feels good on a sore throat.
- Sweat it out. You'll have to listen to your body on this one because if you're super sick, subjecting yourself to high temperatures can dehydrate you or make you dizzy. But if you're feeling up for a heated yoga class, or have access to an infrared sauna (I once paid for a day pass to a gym just so I could use one for 30 min when I was super sick), it will feel so good for your body to sweat out all the toxins that way. Gentle movements and exercises also helps to keep blood flowing to your different organs and gives your immune system a boost.
- Epsom salt bath. Don't get me started on how badly I wish I had a bathtub in my bathroom, but if you're lucky enough to have one, I would highly recommend a nice warm bath filled with lots of epsom salts. I use Dr. Teal's that I got from from Target and the Pink Himalayan Mineral Soak - Restore & Replenish kind I have smells soooo good. This helps pull toxins from your body and relieves sore muscles and aches as well. If you don't have a bath like me, you can soak just your feet either in your sink or in a big bowl with warm water and epsom salts and that will also help to pull toxins from your body as well.
- Dry brush. Dry brushing helps with blood circulation and aids in lymphatic drainage and also just feels really good. If you have no idea what this is or how to do it, let Gwyneth explain it to you here.
- Eat clean, whole foods. The food and substances we put in our body literally have the ability to heal us from the inside out, so it's essential to eat as clean and healthy as possible to support your immune system. This means reducing processed foods, refined sugars, alcohol, and dairy (all things that are inflammatory to our systems) and focusing on eating as many whole, preferably plant-based foods as possible. My go-to tends to be soups that I can load up with lots of vegetables and yummy flavors and plus it feels homey and comforting at the same time.
Try This Instead of That
Our first instinct when we're feeling sick is to run to the store and stock up on all the NyQuil/DayQuil, Tylenol, Emergen-C, cough drops, and other artificially flavored drugs that we're used to ingesting to ease our sicky symptoms. And typically these things do "work." But lately I've felt hesitant to fill my body with extra chemicals and artificial flavors, sweeteners, and colors and so I've tried other natural solutions that have amazingly, and surprisingly, worked. Next time you find yourself reaching for one of these from your medicine cabinet, see if you can swap out a more natural remedy in it's place.
- NyQuil (for sleep). I will say, I'm pretty obsessed with NyQuil. Sometimes you just need to completely knock out and go to sleep, but the last time I used it, I actually broke out in a pretty bad rash on my chest - which I later read is a potential side effect, and has happened to me once before. That plus the alarmingly bright blueish-green color the liquid was made me want to set it aside for the next night. Here are some other things I've been using to get sleepy at night: Lavender essential oil. I'll put a couple drops on my wrists or the bottom of my feet 30 min before bed, or you can diffuse it in your room as well. Magnesium + Melatonin (Natural Calm) blend. I add this to some warm water at night and within 30 minutes from drinking it, I'm pretty dang sleepy.
- Ibuprofen (Advil) or Tylenol (for headaches). Again, if I'm in enough pain or discomfort, I'm still probably gonna take a couple Ibuprofen. But peppermint essential oil is so effective at getting rid of minor headaches, it's crazy. I put a tiny amount on my temples and the back of my neck (it's best if you dilute it with a carrier oil) and my headache almost instantly subsides. So magical.
- Tums or Alka-Seltzer for tummy aches or indigestion. Another job for peppermint essential oil (I love this stuff). I'll add one drop to a small cup of water and drink that down to settle my stomach (also gives you nice breath!) or I'll apply a drop or two directly to my stomach/abdomen area and rub it in and that works as well.
- Theraflu or Emergen-C (for general flu + cold symptoms). My go-to cold tonic is this easy, healthy, and natural blend: hot water, tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, a little bit of honey, and cinnamon (could also add cayenne pepper). I also am such a believer in Thieves essential oil (by Young Living. doTERRA's equivalent is On Guard. Those are the only brands of essential oils I'd recommend when using them on your body or to ingest in any way). I put it on the bottom of my feet almost every night, healthy or sick, and I really believe it kept me healthy through a good portion of this winter. I also put it on my glands as well when I have a sore throat. Plus it smells like Christmas heaven. Several people also recommended Oil of Oregano to me as an immunity booster, so I've been adding 4 drops of that to a glass of orange juice every morning and drinking it down (pretty intense flavor, but I kind of love it).
- Vicks VapoRub (for congestion). I actually don't know if this stuff is that bad for you, but I just like the idea of using home remedies instead. The other day I put a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil (just one I bought from Whole Foods) into my sink filled with really hot water - you can do this over a big bowl as well - and put my face over it with a towel over my head to keep in the steam, and breathed in deeply for several deep breaths. Smells and feels amazing, and totally helps ease congestion in your sinuses.
- Jamba Juice's Cold Buster Smoothie. I actually used to swear by these in college, but after learning how much sugar is in it (they use ice cream as an ingredient), I realized it's probably not the best for me. A lot of juice shops offer immunity juices or ginger shots which are great, but if you feel like saving some money, you can make your own delicious immunity-boosting smoothie at home.
Ok, phew that's a lot of info all at once I know. Hopefully you can view this as more of a reference guide to check back on if you're wanting to incorporate more natural products in your life, and don't feel like you have to do all of this at once. My hope was to share the steps and remedies that actually work for me, in an effort to help keep you as healthy and thriving as possible. Take good care of yourself (you're worth it), and I'm wishing you all the best wholeness and health!