Here’s a not-so-fun fact: A study from the University of Arizona found that a single sick person can infect over half of the commonly touched surfaces in a shared workspace. This likely isn’t shocking to anyone who has ever worked in an office: All it takes is one red-nosed coworker to start sniffling for a cold to spread faster than you can say “I think I’m coming down with something.”
It’s tough to avoid occasionally feeling under the weather when you’re surrounded by germy colleagues, but it’s not inevitable. Here are a few simple steps you can take to avoid getting sick (and even feel good!) when the office is brimming with sneezes and sniffles:
1. Wash Your Hands
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most important step you can take to avoid getting sick is to wash your hands. This may sound simple or obvious, but it turns out that many people don’t wash their hands as thoroughly or as often as they should. Here’s how to keep your hands clean and your body healthy: Rub your hands together with soap and water, lathering the backs of your hands, under your nails, between your fingers, and other areas where germs can lurk for at least 20 seconds. If there’s no sink nearby, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Keep in mind that hand sanitizers don’t kill all germs—like the norovirus, which can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces or coming into contact with an infected person—so you should always opt to wash your hands with soap and water when possible.
Bonus tip: Try to refrain from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth throughout the day. This causes germs to spread and increases the likelihood that you’ll get sick.
2. Rest Up
It’s impossible to understate sleep’s impact on your health. While we sleep, every cell in our body repairs and restores itself to keep us functioning and feeling our best, which is why getting a good night’s rest is the foundation of a healthy body and mind—and one of the most powerful ways to support your immune system.
Stress and worry are what keep most people awake—and wired. Stress also increases inflammation and changes the way the cells in our immune system respond, weakening it and making us more susceptible to seasonal bugs as well as chronic disease, according to researchers. “That’s why it’s important to make time throughout the day for activities that will de-stress us and help us fall asleep easier and sleep better,” says Dr. Adam Perlman, meQuilibrium’s Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer. “It could be some deep breathing, a cup of tea, or going for a walk.”
Setting a regular wake-up time every morning also helps regulate your body clock, which will help you fall asleep at night. Even if you have trouble dozing off and feel tired in the morning, stick to your schedule—including on weekends.
3. Eat Well to Feel Well
Choose foods that fuel your body and your immune system:
- Chicken noodle soup is a classic home remedy for a reason: Studies show that it’s full of essential nutrients that can help you avoid illness and feel better as you recover if you do get sick.
- Katie Bressack, a holistic nutritionist and corporate wellness consultant, also recommends trying oregano capsules to clear the sinuses when you feel stuffiness coming on. (Important note: Some people may experience an allergic reaction to oregano, so, as always, speak to your physician before trying something new.)
4. Deep Clean Your Desk
Germs can easily hitch a ride on small items and transfer to your hands or desk. Don’t borrow pens, keyboards, coffee mugs, phones, etc. from anyone who is feeling under the weather. Once a week, clear everything off of your workspace and use antibacterial disinfectant wipes to clean off any surfaces you regularly come into contact with, such as your desktop, mouse, and keyboard. Don’t forget to wash your hands after you’ve cleaned your space!
Polly Campbell is Portland-based author and speaker specializing in psychology, resilience, and wellness topics. She is the author of three books: How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well. Do Good. Be Happy; Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People; and How to Reach Enlightenment. Tweet her @PLCampbell.