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Being sick used to include fun couch time, but now it’s just stressful

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: March 20
  • Published March 20

It used to be that part of me enjoyed being sick.

No, of course I didn’t like the physical symptoms. And it was only a certain type of sickness that I could take some pleasure in — no stomach bugs or migraines here, no thank you.

It was just that I was so rarely sick that when I found myself relegated to the couch I took it as an opportunity to catch up on bad TV. I read the first Game of Thrones book while sick. The TV show Arrested Development finally clicked with me while sick (it took two tries).

Most of my life resembles a fast-moving train with things constantly falling off and getting hurled on board. So getting sick once a year — if that — meant I could relish the part of the not feeling well that served as a hard stop to the rest of life. It was a break.

Not anymore.

In the past year I’ve been sick more times than I care to count. Some of the symptoms have taken a long time to subside, like the two times a cold made its way into my lungs. Other times it’s just been a pesky head cold. But I’m over the “break.” I’m trying to listen to whatever message my body may be trying to tell me while trying to claw my way back to that mythical immunity I used to have where I was sick so rarely I could almost enjoy it.

My personal brand of preventative healthcare looks something like this:

— Train for something constantly. Foot races are preferred, because running is a very easy go-to exercise that requires only sneakers and comfortable clothing. Getting my heart rate up while outside consistently seems to provide a magic shield against the flu. Especially while traveling, it’s important that I make time (even with jet lag, even after late nights out with colleagues or friends) to go outside and run.

— Don’t go to the gym. Every time I’ve taken up a gym routine, I get sick. Without fail. It must be something about working hard, indoors, around machines that other germ-carrying humans have pawed and sweated all over. If I’m consistently pushing myself outdoors, I can swing a gym visit now and then when it’s the only convenient option. But as a routine, this is a surefire way to beat down my immunity.

Then there are the usual suspects for boosting immunity: drinking plenty of water, sleeping, eating a vegetable now and then.

So what has changed? Why have all of these colds gotten to me this year, and what am I going to do about it?

The biggest culprit is likely stress. I remember a few years ago when my stepdaughter was experiencing clear symptoms of stress due to pressure at school. She would explain, frustrated, that she was getting all of this advice on how to manage stress and it was only increasing her level of stress. At the time, like the amazing stepmom I am, I thought, “you should drink more water, exercise, and talk about your feelings.” Now life is serving me some karmic stress and asking me how I’d like to take my own condescending advice. Water, exercise and talking it out do not form a silver bullet — stress management is a hot topic in our country because it is inherently difficult.

I think what I had before, and what I don’t have now, is a sense of balance.

Solidifying and sticking to an outdoor routine, whether it’s running, hiking, biking or a combination of all of those and then some, is one way of achieving balance.

But that’s only the start. I have some work to do when I’m out there running outdoors to think about what is causing me stress and how I can better mitigate it. Yes, part of it will be through outdoor exercise. That is foundational for my physical and mental health. However, I think this time it’s something bigger that’s nagging at me.

Or maybe it’s just a proliferation of germs this year and I’m overthinking it. That’s been known to happen. But if I can’t enjoy even part of being sick, I am going to at least try to draw some lesson from it as I work my way back into my normal outdoor routines.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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