How to survive cold and flu season

It's taken me a while, but I've finally figured out how I can avoid getting sick in the winter. And it's actually worked!

person sick on sofa Photo:
This article was updated in October 2022.

Winter is on its way, and so are fun things like Christmas lights, fresh fallen snow, and…cold and flu season. No matter what you do, it seems inevitable that you’ll catch something gross that lasts forever and shows up at the worst of times, like when you have all the midterms to study for.

As someone who was sick more often than I was healthy in first year, I tried nearly every preventative measure in the world to survive second year. Somehow, I only got sick once. Below are my field-tested tips to keep you as healthy as possible during cold and flu season.

1. Keep your fluids up

Keep yourself hydrated with water, tea, broth, and Gatorade. Being dehydrated feels bad in general, but worse than that, it also makes you more susceptible to illness. Try to avoid coffee, pop, and alcohol as much as you can, because these beverages dehydrate you. They lower your electrolytes and sodium levels, which makes you feel even worse and means you’re more likely to catch something.

2. Wash your hands and have backup hand sanitizer

This should be so well-known that hearing it again should make you groan. It’s still the best advice: WASH YOUR HANDS. The world is dirty, especially at the height of cold and flu season when people are coughing and sneezing left, right, and center. Wash your hands often and wash them well. Proper hand-washing procedure is:

  • Wet your hands with warm water.
  • Lather for 20 seconds (the length of “Happy Birthday to You”), making sure to get it over your palms, your thumbs, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Rinse with warm water.
  • Dry, making sure to turn the tap off with paper towels or cloth.
  • Use that paper towel to open the doorknob in public restrooms to avoid touching the handle.

Also, carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you if you can. It’ll come in handy more than you think.

3. Take a multivitamin and a zinc lozenge when necessary

As silly as it sounds, taking a daily multivitamin supplies your body with lots of vitamins and minerals that might be missing from your diet. Giving your body as many nutrients as you can every day will keep you in tip-top shape when you need it most. Zinc lozenges are also a great idea. Take one at the first sign of a sore throat or congestion. Are they clinically proven? Probably not, but as someone who was willing to try anything, it worked for me.

4. Sleep

I know telling university students to sleep may be futile, but really try to get a little extra sleep. Being run-down and exhausted only makes it easier for you to get sick, because your immune system is already working overtime. Even an extra half-hour a night or a nap during the day (if you can squeeze it in) can improve your chances of keeping sickness at bay. Remember, rest is best.

5. Take warm baths and showers

At the end of the day, try to take a warm, relaxing bath. The heat will feel great on tired muscles and joints and help to bring your stress levels down. Keeping your stress in check is good for your overall health and incredibly beneficial for your immune system. Try adding essential oils like lavender, lemon, orange, peppermint, or eucalyptus to your bathwater or soap. Not only do they smell good, they may even have some health benefits. During cold and flu season, those are always welcomed no matter where they come from.

6. Get the flu shot

Your overall best defense against getting sick is to get the flu shot when it’s available. Everything else might reduce your chances, but the flu shot has empirical evidence of its effectiveness. Look for on-campus clinics, and many drugstores offer the shot and injection for FREE with your provincial health card (or for a small fee for those without one). You can book one through the same portal as the COVID vaccination clinics. It also benefits those around you who are immunocompromised and can’t get the flu shot themselves. So not only do you help yourself by getting the flu shot, you help everyone around you too! How great is that?