How to be Ill: top tips to getting over an acute illness
How to be Ill: a guide to accepting your acutely unwell By Nurse Katie Illingworth Opinions are my own   When we are unwell, we often fight it. Leading to us not fully healing and feeling that sense of guilt that we need to be back in work/ life/ family duties. This is very counterproductive! Mainly due to how our bodies heal, to be able to heal we need to move the body from a state of stress to a state of relaxation. We have 2 states within our nervous system – The sympathetic (fight, flight, fright, freeze) In the sympathetic nervous system – this is the state of ‘cracking on’ with it. We use masses of cortisol, and adrenaline spikes to get us through. Weather we are a fight, fright, flight or freeze type of person in any situation – we still use the same hormones to be on our guard/ respond. The para- sympathetic (rest and digest) The para- sympathetic nervous system is also known as ‘rest and digest’. When we enter this state out bodies can rebalance the hormones, allowing aspects of your body to heal, or even just work properly!   Now the challenge is how to enter a rest and digest state when your acutely unwell. So to my top tips
  • Get checked out by a professional – do not self-diagnose, Dr Google cannot hear how your chest sounds, or see how pale you look. Even if you think you know what’s going on, still speak to a health care professional. On a personal level, I mistook pneumonia with pleurisy as being a bit run down, and over worked – it took someone to listen to my lungs to point out what was right in front of me.
  • Accept your sick. Take more time off than you think! 1 – 2 days might not be enough for you to heal. The guilt of needing time out of the world is a modern-day construct. The guilt can p*ss off, it wont help you feel better and it could actually make you feel worse!
  • Cancel social and professional engagements – I know the temptation is to keep doing bits at a slower rate but think if you keep doing things your body has to produce cortisol and adrenaline – which pushes you back into the sympathetic nervous system, a place where you cannot heal.
  • Put a ‘out of office’ on your emails – make it clear to your colleagues you’re not about, even if it’s just 2 days. This sends a clear signal to others and to yourself that it’s ok to put your tools down and rest.
  • Get off social media – I know it’s boring being sick, but social media is designed to create short hormonal bursts of happy hormones, this will send mixed messages to your brain about what’s going on, meaning it finds it harder to rest and digest. Social media is also known to increase anxiety and depression. If your unwell your mood drops anyway, so quick fix happy hormones will not help.
  • Extra hydration – your body needs more fluid when your unwell, and this be because your cells need more fluid to fight infections and inflammations. Also, when you’re sick, you sweat a lot more. So, aim to double your fluid intake – smoothies, and soup count.
  • Nutrient dense food – you cannot drive a petrol car if you put diesel in it, it is the same for our bodies. If you fill it with food that has low nutritional density it will take longer to heal. Lean into loving your fruit, veg, meats, fish, and grains.
  • Sleep – oh beautiful sleep. This is the ultimate para sympathetic state! There is increasing research that sleep is when we heal, so take that afternoon nap – sod it have 2. If your unwell and feel tired, go to bed, don’t set an alarm – let your body do its magic.
  • Supplements – ideally, we want to get all the nutrients we need from food, realistically we don’t due to multiple reasons (I’ll explore in another post). Therefore, some supplements can help you in daily life, but especially when you’re ill. The covid pandemic lead to lots of research into vitamin D, and latest finding are that those who are acutely unwell drop their vitamin D. We don’t know why, maybe due to being indoor more, or that we use these vitamins during the healing process. Whatever it is, adding some supplements won’t hurt. I personally take a multivitamin, probiotics, omega 3, iron and magnesium– this is what suits my body type and needs when I’m unwell. If your new to taking supplements start with a daily multivitamin, ensuring it has Vitamin D in it.
  • Probiotic – some antibiotics will kill all bacteria in your gut, meaning you need to fill your body with nutrient dense enzymes to have a balanced regrowth of the biome. Sometimes the killing off the bacteria can mean yeast can grow more quickly, this can give you yeast infections such as thrush. Use of probiotics during antibiotic use is supposed to negate these affects, however the probiotic industry is not regulated, and some brands are better suited to an individual than others. Therefore, you still might get thrush. Probiotics are more of a maintenance thing for good gut health, and great in many people.
  • Slow movement – there is no evidence that supports ‘bed rest’, and that makes sense. Our bodies need to move. The movement you do should be reflective of the acute illness you have. For example, if your acutely unwell with a chest infection, a slow walk with deep breathing will help move the gunk at the bases of the lungs.
  • Mindful enjoyment of a calming hobby – being ill is boring, and we know things like social media and excessive TV will make you feel low, so doing a relaxing hobby is ideal. Something like knitting, colouring in, scrap booking e.t.c these relaxing hobbies will keep you in the ‘rest and digest’ state, verses a hobby that is mentally or physically stimulating.
  When you’re starting to feel better, go slow and be kind to yourself. Doing some things that build your confidence back up such as taking a bath, moisturising, applying make-up and putting on a nice outfit can help you remember your strong confident self. I hope my top tips have helped you during this time of feeling unwell, If you want further advice or support, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Nurse Katie

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