As the weather cools, the days grow shorter, and the nights grow longer, many people know that cold and flu season is not far behind. Some, more than others, are more susceptible to catching a cold and may avoid being around large groups of people or leaving the house for long periods of time. With a little preparation, self-care, and forethought, however, it may be possible to make it through this cold/flu season without succumbing to illness.
Similar to the way Western cultures talk about “catching a cold”, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) talks about catching a “wind cold” or “wind heat”. Just as the names imply, “colds” are differentiated between being cold in nature (chills, sore muscles, nasal congestion, etc.) or warm in nature (fever, red or runny nose, sore throat, itchy eyes, etc.). Further, no disease in TCM is static – it is always in flux, changing, and morphing. As such, a cold pattern may quickly transition into a warm pattern, much like Yin is always turning into Yang, and Yang is always turning into Yin.
The key to avoiding getting sick in the first place, though, is in proper self-care. An individual is at his or her strongest when body and mind are balanced. Stressful and hectic lives zap the immune system faster than anything else. If one is able to find a good work-life-family balance, then the first (and largest) hurdle has already been successfully met.
If, however, you find yourself coming down with a bit of a bug, there are some steps you can do to mitigate the length, and severity, of the cold.
Breathe - one of the simplest ways to reset the nervous system when it gets a little frazzled is to just take a few moments and monitor the breath. Take a deep breath in for 4 counts, and then hold it for 4 counts. Exhale for 4, and hold for 4. Repeat this a few times. Regulating and consciously observing the breath can very quickly turn off the sympathetic nervous system (fright or flight) and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation state).
Meditate – similar to breathing, meditation can help calm the body and mind. Whether it is chanting a mantra, using a point of focus, guided meditation, or prayer, focusing the mind also works to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and relax the body and mind.
Massage – a great massage for anyone who hasn’t had one is a lymphatic or lymph-drainage massage. The lymph system acts like a logistical system in the body. They take all the “nasties” such as germs and viruses away from where they shouldn’t be and help facilitate them out of the body. A lymph drainage massage can really be a nice flush for the system, though be sure to drink plenty of water afterwards!
Food therapy– Food is our greatest tool for staying healthy during cold/flu season. Foods like congee or porridge help fortify the body with foods that are easy to digest and assimilate. They are also versatile and can be made with anything that appeals to the individual, and can also be left in the slow cooker to cook over night or during the workday. Another powerhouse food for this time of year is bone broth, which can be a little more time-consuming to prepare, but is well worth the effort. Ginger is also a powerful food in TCM and can be added to both congee or bone broth to strengthen the anti-cold/flu nature of the foods.
Herbs – Lastly, herbal medicine can be very successful in keeping people happy and healthy this time of year. Herbs like Astragalus, Echinacea, and shiitake or reishi mushroom are all wonderful for preventing disease. If we find ourselves coming down with something, however, the best thing is to treat it immediately. A good recipe for a tea that should stop a cold in its tracks is equal parts peppermint, tangerine peel (fresh), ginger and green onion. Boil the tangerine peel, ginger, and green onion for about 10 minutes in water. Then, add the peppermint for another 1-2 minutes. Strain and drink hot before bed. Be sure to bundle up, though, because this will produce a sweat and TCM states it is best to avoid drafts when inducing a sweat.
Here’s to a happy and healthy cold and flu season!
Dr. Kevin Clark, DAOM is an acupuncturist/herbalist with Garden State Acupuncture and Wellness in Colts Neck, NJ. For more information, please visit their website at www.GardenStateAcupuncture.com or call 732-252-6806.