When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Common Cold: A Calling Card from the Universe

I abhor being sick. I don't care for the feelings of powerlessness or lack of control that comes with any sickness. While I don't get sick too often (no more than once a month), and I rarely become seriously ill ([knock wood] I've never had the flu or missed more than one day of work for sickness, and even then it was a day I went home early), I don't particularly care for any down time from illness. I see the common cold as the wuss of all diseases. You are nowhere near your deathbed. People rarely have any sympathy for you because the virus will run its course in short order, yet they don't want to get anywhere near you for fear of catching it. What I personally despise about a cold is the congestion. I have issues with breathing, and anything that impedes my already sub-par breathing abilities just becomes a major thorn in my side.

Wait, isn't this supposed to be a gratitude blog? I'm getting to that. As my older brother used to say, "first worst, best last." Sometimes I find it easier to find the silver lining if I get all the "doom and gloom" thoughts out of the way. So, what could be the upswing of a wussy yet ostracizing cold?

Every once in a while I actually take a step back and ask myself just that question. After much deliberation, I figured out that sometimes a cold is my body's way of telling me that I need to relax. I don't mean vegging on the couch or playing games all day. I mean actually resting. When we get sick, be it from a simple cold or from a more serious illness, one of the greatest demands our bodies make on us is for SLEEP. Our bodies actually get a lot of maintenance and repair work done while we sleep, which is why it is so essential for mental and physical health. The more stress we experience, the harder we push ourselves, the more likely we are going to get sick. This isn't just rhetoric, there are actual medical and psychological studies showing a very strong relationship between stress, socialization, and illness. There is even a whole field of psychology--psychoneuroimmunology--dedicated to studying the link between mental health and physiological health.

In my moments of insightful wisdom, I realize that I often get a weak cold when I have more on my proverbial plate that I can intelligently handle at the time. The sickness generates a mindset of "it can wait" and I put off everything for a day or two while I get some apparently much-needed sleep. I do not completely shut down, but I do step back significantly. I pull out my Plan B so that I can feel like I accomplish something during my work day (I teach, so this is usually pretty easy for me to do) and I slip into organizing mode. True, dishes may pile up and the laundry might get pushed off for another day while I am napping. However, once I feel better, once I regain my physical AND mental energy, I can quickly catch up on things with a History Channel or psychological crime drama (Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU are great) marathon in the evenings or on a weekend. I watch a lot of History Channel while doing chores; that's what fills about a quarter of my Tivo. Of course, I would not be able to do this if it weren't for the support of my husband. After 11 years of marriage we have learned a lot about quietly adapting to each other. We are lucky enough that we usually do not get sick or stressed at the same time. Sometimes there is a day or two of overlap, but we often stumble our way through with relative ease.

So, the next time you get a cold, it might just be the universe (or at least your body) telling you that it's time to take a little break.

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