I still remember as a little girl while at school, I suddenly began to feel very poorly and almost passed out. When the school nurse took my temperature, she immediately called my father to come bring me home. By the time he got there, the cold compresses had had their effect and I felt quite normal. My father punished me for faking a temperature and pretending to faint. To this day when I get sick, I try to power through, convincing myself that it will pass.
That's what is called a powerful memory, and we all have them. They inform how we react to all types of things, little and big, in our everyday life. Christmas has its fair share of powerful memories. When we believe that Christmas is supposed to be magical and perfect, it can be a recipe for disaster if we let these false beliefs guide us.
There can also be a cultural moral high ground for productivity which can dilute our logic. People feel guilty for taking a few days off year round. Just to be clear, the "Protestant work ethic" had it wrong. Working yourself to death doesn't make you a better candidate for heaven.
"The Puritans turned work into a virtue, evidently forgetting that God invented it as a punishment." -- Tim Kreider
Last week, after writing out a "must-do" list, I found myself hacking up a lung and parking myself on the couch, sipping lemon and ginger root tea while watching cheesy Christmas movies. With all the germ sharing we do at this time of year, I won't be the only one who gets hit with a cold or the flu.
In my misery, I remembered a time when my family got taken down by a bug during Christmas week. There are too many Christmases where the shine was dulled by illness. Several times, Christmas Day got completely postponed, and everyone stayed home to avoid more cross-contamination!
So, what you do to get through the next few weeks if an unplanned bug shows up to mess up your plans?
#1 Reach out and ask for help
While Tylenol became my best friend for a few days, despite feeling pretty crummy I posted a simple little message on Facebook asking what people did in my circumstances. The responses, simple advice and words of encouragement reduced my feelings of isolation and made me feel loved while providing me with good ideas. I also knew that my husband would do anything I needed as long as I asked. (Yes, ladies, you have to ask!) For this I was truly grateful.
#2 Practice gratitude
Gratitude releases endorphins which help us feel better while increasing our immune system. Finding ways to feel grateful while we are sick shortens the recovery time. Don't wait until you're sick. Try gratitude right now. Take a deep breath, smile and say to yourself (quietly or out loudly), "I am so grateful to have a roof over my head; for people who love me despite my quirks, and that I can walk and talk and laugh and ..." At one point, I was grateful for the soothing cream I could put on my nose. Feeling thankful in the moment took my focus off my "must do" list.
#3 Reframe what is important
For some people, Christmas is a major production where everything is scripted in advance. It doesn't really add pleasure to the experience when we are "should-ing" all over ourselves. "I should do this, I should do that!". Instead, let go of your Martha Stewart syndrome and get in touch with the love and connections that you have.
The true spirit of the Christmas holidays is meant to be peace, hope, joy, love. There's nothing there about perfectly wrapped gifts. Personally, if you know someone who has a cold, just give them Kleenex with the lotion embedded in it. Or a lovely foot rub. No need to wrap either.
#4 Be honest
I have a lovely relative who just went through a rough time. She has trouble setting boundaries and she apologizes for everything. (She even apologizes when you ask her to stop apologizing.) I asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday and I asked her to please be selfish. If she wanted to see us, that was great! If she didn't want to see us, that was great, too!
The reality is that sometimes we just don't feel up to being social. When you are under the weather (physically or emotionally), it's time to start setting up some healthy boundaries. It's okay to not want to be somewhere or to choose to spend time with a specific person to the exclusion of others.
OK, this one may seem silly to point out. Really successful people sleep enough. Years ago, Oprah shared that sometimes she goes to bed at 7:30 or 8:00 PM because she's tired. Now, Arianna Huffington is trying to revolutionize how we treat sleep after she burned out from overwork. We absolutely need to prioritize sleep to stay well and to recover when we get sick. So take something off that "must-do" list and go to bed early.
"I believe that the greatest gift you can give your family and the world is a healthy you." - Joyce Meyer
I took a philosophical approach to getting sick and decided that God meant for me to take a couple of days off. I know I shaved off days of misery. I guess I should count myself lucky because I know that by Christmas day, I got the local bug out of the way and will feel great.
I think we should move the holiday season to after the cold and flu season to increase the chances that everyone feels great.
A spring Christmas season! Who's with me? :)
The most successful leaders are not infallible when faced with someone who "drives them crazy!" Monique's strategies to empower others to stand up and take control of their personal and professional lives are appreciated by all who meet her. As a Speaker, Facilitator and Consultant helping to reduce conflict and increase collaboration, Monique Caissie draws from 30 years of crisis intervention work to help others increase their confidence to feel more heard, respected and happier. In her quest to better manage the difficult people in her life, she has studied human relations, spiritual texts, psychology and 12 step groups. Check out her speaking and facilitating services.
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Most studies show that massage can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate -- and lowering these is likely to cause your stress level to drop, one key to building immunity. Make It Work For You: Any type of rubdown is fine, as long as you ask for moderate pressure. The therapist's touch should be vigorous enough to move or indent skin but not so hard that it causes pain. How often do you need one? There's no science on that, but experts say once a month (or more) is worthwhile. Check with your insurance provider to see if it's covered or check out massage schools with discounted services.
Devotees claim cold showers help with low energy, migraines, circulation, and pain reduction. The scientific jury's still out on cold showers, but Mary Ann Bauman, M.D., author of Fight Fatigue: Six Simple Steps to Maximize Your Energy, says there's no harm in trying. Make It Work For You: Try small doses. Although a 10-minute cold shower might be tolerable in the summertime, in the winter you may want to opt for a 1-minute blast at the end of a warm shower. Consult your doctor if you have cardiovascular problems, because the sudden chill can cause a spike in blood pressure.
For centuries, ginger has been the go-to root for a wide range of gastrointestinal distresses, including constipation. Researchers believe its compounds stimulate digestive secretions, improve intestinal muscle tone, and help move food through the gastrointestinal tract. Make It Work For You: Fresh ginger -- sipped in tea or eaten straight-up -- is best, says Sari Greaves, RD, of New York Presbyterian Hospital–Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. But ginger in other forms (dried, powdered, cooked) can be effective too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand-washing is the number-one action you can take to dodge the 1 billion colds Americans come down with annually (not to mention the bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella, that cause foodborne illnesses). Make It Work For You: Wash with regular soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice). Vigorously scrub all parts of your hands, not just palms, and check your fingernails for trapped dirt. Dry with paper towels, or designate a cloth hand towel for each member of your household.
Although vitamin C and zinc for cold prevention remain controversial, some studies show that C is helpful -- especially for people who are under extreme stress -- and that zinc can prevent viruses from multiplying. Experts say there's no harm in trying. Make It Work For You: Neil Schachter, M.D., director of respiratory care at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, in New York City, suggests taking a conservative amount of vitamin C (500 milligrams a day) at the first sign of a cold. (The Institute of Medicine advises drawing the line at 2,000 mg daily to avoid gastrointestinal or kidney problems.) As for zinc, Dr. Schachter suggests taking zinc lozenges several times a day when a cold starts.
Garlic is rich in antioxidants that boost immunity and fight inflammation, says Carmia Borek, Ph.D., research professor in the department of public health and family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. That means the herb, in addition to boosting defenses against everyday illness, probably helps to stave off cancer and boost heart health. Make It Work For You: If you're worried about bad breath and yucky burps, you're not alone. Happily, there are options with fewer side effects. Aged-garlic extract is a great odor-free alternative, and it even has a higher concentration of the potent compounds that make garlic a superfood, Borek says.
In one study, participants who had heightened activity in a region of the brain associated with a positive attitude produced greater amounts of flu antibodies. Researchers aren't clear on the connection, but they do know "the brain communicates with the immune system, and vice versa," says Anna L. Marsland, Ph.D., director of the Behavioral Immunology Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. Make It Work For You: If you don't always think positively, experts say, you can at least learn to be less negative. Don't dwell on your symptoms when you do get sick, and try not to assume the worst (like telling yourself, "I always get sick this time of year" or "This cold blows the whole week"). "You probably can't change your personality," Marsland says, "but you can change your behavior."
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