Surviving cold season at the office
Remember how your parents and teachers kept reminding you to wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs? It’s probably an automatic behaviour by now, and that’s good. Scrubbing up really does help stop cold viruses in their tracks.
But that’s old news. There are lesser-known ways to help you avoid catching a cold from an office sniffler. Here are nine things you can do to boost your immune system and survive cold season at the office:
1. Keep Your Hands to Yourself
Don’t touch your face. Don’t touch your face. Don’t touch your face.
See there? You just scratched your chin. Maybe you rubbed your eyes. Touching your face is a highly effective way of getting viruses into your body. And it’s insidious. You didn’t know someone just sneezed cold germs all over the office teapot or hacked up a lung and then touched the door handle.
Now you’ve touched the contaminated area, and the virus is on your hands. Itch your nose, and the cold germs scamper right into your system. The eyes and mouth also have welcome mats for infections.
Touching your face is often an unconscious habit, and it’s a bad one. Work to correct it, and you may see the number of colds you get decrease.
And by the way — don’t touch your face.
2. Start Chugging
Hot weather is not the only time to make sure you’re taking in enough liquids. In colder weather, your metabolism shifts into higher gear to keep you warm. Because of this, you exhale more, including more water vapor.
The next thing you know, the mucous membranes in your nose have dried out. That’s uncomfortable, but it’s unhealthy, too. Your nasal mucous membranes secrete, well, mucous. This sticky substance traps unwelcome particles — such as cold viruses — as you inhale them. Dry those membranes out, and germs have a clearer pathway into your system.
Keeping hydrated, however, can help your mucous membranes stay moist. On average, women should drink at least two liters of fluids daily. Men need at least three. Water is your best bet. Juice with vitamin C might give your immune system a little boost, but it’s probably not a miracle worker by itself.
3. Go It Alone
Get used your own company. You don’t need to become a hermit, but try to stay away from places where people gather. In those areas, you’re more likely to get coughed or sneezed on. Sick people also touch things. Actually, all people do, but a person with a cold will probably leave behind a virus.
Don’t treat people and place like they’re plague-infected, but don’t necessarily hang around, either. This would also be a good time to remember your teacher’s lesson about hand washing, and you might want to keep some of that alcohol-based hand sanitiser available when you can’t take a quick run to the restroom.
4. Wing It
As a child, you may have been taught to cover your mouth when you cough. How polite, but how germy. You’ve just unleashed a cold virus onto your hand. What will you do next? Touch a shared telephone? Give someone a pen? Pour from the office coffee maker? Shake hands?
Forget the etiquette that was ingrained into your young brain. Cough into the crook of your arm, right at the inside elbow — the part that looks like a chicken wing. You’re not doing much with that body part, anyway, so it probably won’t touch anything important around the office.
5. Admire from Afar
Cold viruses don’t travel on little jet planes from person to person. They require close contact. You can try to avoid people, but sometimes you have to make an appearance. When you must and can, make a point of staying at least ten feet away from others. That rules out shaking hands, but don’t let folks think you’re just rude. Explain your new and rather unusual behaviour. They might even find it considerate. Who knows? You may even start an office trend.
7. Keep It to Yourself
Especially if you’re in a leadership position, don’t go to the office when you’re sneezing and hacking from a cold. If others see you working while you’re ill, they’ll feel obligated to show up sick, too. Just stay home until you’ve got coughing and sneezing under control. Colds are usually most contagious during the first few days of symptoms. And don’t think if you get a cold once, you’re set for the year. Once you catch a cold, you usually become immune to it, but there are over 200 different cold viruses. They can also join forces, resulting in more than 1,500 variations. That means everyone in the office can present you with a different virus.
8. Look to the Future
To encourage people to stay home when they’re sick, have contingency plans in place that cover the responsibilities of absent co-workers. Is anyone really irreplaceable? Probably not. But if a deadline is approaching or a project is due, sick employees might stress out and go into the office. They’re getting the work done, but they also might be infecting the whole team.
Plan ahead. Who can fill in for whom temporarily? If absolutely necessary, what creative methods can you use to interact safely with someone with a really bad cold? Videoconference between home and office? Email? Text messages? Maybe even a good old-fashioned phone call will ensure the project gets done — without a cold taking down the whole team.
9. Breathe In. Breathe Out
Humidifiers help relieve nasal stuffiness that comes from indoor heating — or even cooling. Sure, you’re more comfortable, but you’re also protecting yourself. The water vapor humidifiers help moisten your mucous membranes by putting water vapor back into the air you breathe. They come with a big warning, however — you’ve got to keep them clean.
Ironically, bacteria thrive in moist areas. You could start a nasty colony within your humidifier if you don’t follow the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions. That big help could instead become a big liability.
It’s possible to get through cold season at the office without catching every single thing that comes around. Use these tips and keep a wary eye out for locations where germs might be lurking.
By: Sarah Landrum
Sarah Landrum recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she’s a freelance writer and founder of Punched Clocks sharing advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in your career. You can find her tweeting on her coffee breaks @SarahLandrum