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How to feel better: Tips for self-care when sick

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When you’re not feeling well, it’s hard to do anything but not feel well.

Antibiotics won’t help if you’re suffering with a cold or flu caused by a virus.

But you can take measures to help yourself feel better. Try adding these to your self-care regimen:

Stay home and rest

Many viruses, including influenza, come on hard and fast. Alert your workplace or school that you’re unwell and stay home to limit exposing others. While home, wash your hands often with soap and water, wipe down high-touch surfaces with a disinfectant and try to stay away from others in your home.

Your body needs to battle what is ailing you. “Extra sleep can help your immune system function at its best and potentially shorten the duration of your illness,” says Heather Finn, MD, of Upstate Family and Preventive Medicine. “It can also help prevent you from becoming sick in the first place.”

Get additional sleep if you can, or curl up with a blanket to read, do a crossword puzzle or watch TV. Additionally, making sure you have enough sleep every night can help strengthen your immune system to keep you from getting sick next time. “Trying to maintain a regular sleep schedule of at least eight hours per night can help optimize your health,” she says.

Healthy people can expect to fight a cold for seven to 10 days. Flu symptoms should go away in about five days, but you may still feel weak for days after.

Consider yourself contagious until you have been free of symptoms for two to three days.

“If you have other medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease or lung disease like asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), contact your primary care provider, as your illness can affect these other aspects of your health,” Finn says.

Hydrate and humidify

Drink more water, warm tea, or broth to increase your fluids. This helps keep your respiratory system hydrated and thin out any mucus, so it can’t build up in your lungs to cause an infection.

“Warm tea with honey hydrates and soothes a sore throat or cough,” says Finn.  “Be sure to avoid honey in infants under the age of 1, however, as this carries the risk of botulism.”

If you’re feeling congested in your head or chest, spend some time in a warm, steamy bathroom. Close the door and let the shower run hot.

If the air in your home is dry, run a humidifier or vaporizer in the room where you’re resting.

Treat your symptoms

“There may be no medication to cure your illness, but over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help with your most critical symptoms,” Finn says.

Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen can all help lower a fever and soothe aches. Ask your doctor which is best for you. “There is no need to treat a mild fever just to bring the number down. However, if your fever is making you uncomfortable, use the OTC fever reducer and soak a washcloth in cold water and place it on your forehead or back of your neck,” says Finn.  The old wives’ tale of “sweating it out” is just that. Keep your body temperature where you are comfortable, so you can rest.

If you have a cough, an expectorant can help thin mucus, so you can cough it up. Lozenges, especially those with menthol, can also help quiet coughs and soothe sore throats.

Both colds and flus can cause increased mucus. Antihistamines and decongestants can help with a runny or congested nose. Finn cautions to check with your doctor before you use these medications, especially decongestants, as some of them can raise blood pressure or cause heart issues.

She says saline nose drops and sprays are safe and effective for all ages to help break up nasal congestion. Put several drops into one nostril and gently blow the mucus and saline out. Repeat on the other side.

Eat well

“In addition to hydrating, be sure to eat nourishing foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” says Finn.

When to call the doctor

It’s time to call your primary care doctor if:

-- Your symptoms get worse or won’t go away.

-- You have a high fever -- 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for an infant, or 102 degrees or higher in children or adults -- or if your fever lasts for more than three days.

-- You are vomiting, wheezing or have periods with shortness of breath or chest discomfort.

-- You develop a painful earache or have drainage from your ear.

-- You have pain in your face or forehead with thick yellow or green mucus for more than a week.