We are nearing the end of October as I type this, and already the hum of concern is pulsating and gaining more airtime in your social circles. Flu season is on its way. Alas, what can we do?
Quite a bit, actually!
While some believe that microscopic organisms somehow get really sneaky and really aggressive during the months between November and early Spring, there are others who are more inclined to think this season of sickness is not the fault of germs per say, but more of our species' poor preparation for and response to normal environmental and seasonal changes. I happen to be one of these individuals.
I am not saying the the flu specifically, and illness in general, is entirely avoidable, but I do believe there are steps we can take to lessen the impact and perhaps sidestep the under-the-weather-blues all together this year. Here are a few ideas to get you moving in the direction of good health as winter approaches:
Take your cues from Nature and go to bed earlier. As daylight hours wane and the stillness of winter darkness takes over, resist the temptation to extend your hours of productivity with artificial lighting, and instead respond positively to Nature's invitation to close up shop earlier and Get.More.Sleep. Not only will you be supporting your immune system, you will also wake feeling well-rested and alert, and able to make better decisions in every area of life throughout your day - especially in how you move and eat. Yes, consistent sleep is this powerful!
Get outside and get moving, even and especially when it's cold. Invest in some quality wet and cold-weather gear so that you can hike through the fall foliage, frolick in the crispy white snow, splash in some puddles, and enjoy some outdoor athletic events. There is nothing quite like sedentary daily routines paired with stale, recycled, and heated air to dry out your airways, cause your lymph system to stagnate, and invite otherwise relatively harmless invaders to take hold and wreck absolute havoc in your body. Enjoyable outdoor movement and fresh air are your tickets to an active and illness-free winter, and might even help you manage that holiday time stress!
Drink plenty of plain, clean water. Add a squeeze of citrus if you'd like, but take a pass on anything with extra sweeteners - especially at this time of year. Save the hot apple cider and hot chocolate for special occasions, and enjoy them mindfully, treating them as dessert.
Find other ways besides sugar and alcohol to celebrate the holidays. With Halloween as our fall kick-off event, we Americans then cycle through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, The Superbowl, and Easter, among other celebratory winter days. Is it any wonder so many of us get sick, sometimes repeatedly, when we are overwhelming our bodies with so much sugar, industrialized oils, alcohol, artificial ingredients, and food dyes - not to mention the stress of the holiday rush? Keep your gut happy with quality real food - well-sourced, in season, and cooked at home as often as possible, and you'll be doing wonders for your immune system!
Practice basic hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water often, encourage your kids to cover their coughs and sneezes, and do your best to avoid crowded enclosed spaces with temperature-controlled air. But please keep your proactive behaviors simple, and beware the anti-germ hysteria! We are not at war with nature; we are nature, and we simply need to respect how it works and how we are made. Personally I decline all antibacterial gels, soaps, and cleaners. Hygiene is good; sterility is not. Rather than focusing so much effort on attacking the invisible outsider invader, choose instead to strengthen your inner terrain, so that you can bounce back from any run-of-the-mill insult, and not just the flu.
Consider supplementing with immune-boosting nutrients. Along with a real food diet centered on quality proteins and fat, and rounded out with colorful root vegetables, seasonal fruit, and ferments, consider adding in an extra cushion of concentrated nutrients. It is always best to test before you start supplementing willy-nilly, but most of us will benefit from extra Vitamin D, Vitamic C, zinc, and omega-3s during the winter months. I also aim to consume homemade bone broth (usually chicken but also beef) on a weekly, if not daily, basis. I use it in soups and stews, as a replacement for water when cooking rice, and sometimes just as a warm and nourishing beverage during those cold winter days.
Do your research before lining up for flu shots and other vaccinations. Check out the book Turtles All the Way Down for a very thorough and compelling examination of this issue, and you might just conclude that pharmaceutical injections are working against you, not for you.
If you do all of this and still have the misfortune to contract the flu virus, have no fear! If you are consistently eating well, living well, thinking well, and building resilience, chances are you'll be back on your feet in short order, none worse for wear. Sometimes it takes a brief period of illness to help us truly appreciate the blessing of good health. Here's to a happy and healthy winter season, filled with fun family antics, good friends, delicious food, and lots of holiday memory-making!