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Cold and flu field guide: How to get through the day when you’re better but not 100% 

Cold and flu field guide: How to get through the day when you’re better but not 100% 

When you’re recovering after being sick, your symptoms don’t always go away so fast. These tips can help you feel your best. 

As you recover from a nasty cold or flu bug, your symptoms can hang around for a while. It may take days or sometimes weeks to feel like yourself again.1,2 In the meantime, you may need to return to work, run errands and return to your regular schedule.

Here are seven tips to help you get through your day, even if you’re not fully recovered from a cold or flu.

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1. Take it easy 

This is probably not the right time to reorganize your kitchen or repaint a room. When you’re on the back end of a cold or the flu, your body is still in recovery mode. And that takes time.

“People recover faster when they listen to their body and avoid overdoing it,” says Daniel Griffin, MD. He’s an infectious disease specialist with Optum, in Lake Success, New York. Pushing yourself too hard, too soon can backfire. What would’ve been a 48-hour illness can quickly turn into a five-day stretch, he adds.

Part of taking it easy involves changing your normal routine. So, if you’re a gym rat or a social butterfly, you may need to dial down your activity for a bit. “Make sure to ease back into exercise until you are recovered,” says Dr. Griffin. And if you had plans to go to a party or social gathering, the better option might be to stay home and rest.

2. Stay hydrated

Even when you’re feeling fine, you need to drink fluids throughout the day. That keeps your body hydrated, which can help keep you healthy.3 But when you’re sick, staying hydrated is even more important.4 That’s because you tend to lose more fluid from your lungs, notes Dr. Griffin. “And hydration can be key to feeling better.”

Drink plenty of water, advises Dr. Griffin. For variety, add orange or lemon slices or try sparkling water. Juice, clear broth or warm lemon water are also good options.4

3. Try honey to curb a cough 

Let’s say you’re feeling a lot better. But maybe you have a lingering cough, because you’ve still got a lot of phlegm (mucus).1 When you’re sick with a cold or the flu, mucus production can increase and collect in the back of your throat.5 And a cough can hang on for 10 to 14 days.1

One sweet option that may relieve a cough is honey.4 Try squeezing a little into a mug of hot tea.

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4. Get enough shut-eye 

Your immune system needs the right amount of sleep to work its magic.6 Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.7 And any additional z’s you can get when you’re recovering can help your body bounce back.

If you feel fatigued in the afternoon, grab a quick nap. Keep it to 20 to 30 minutes. And be sure to take your nap before 3 p.m., so it won’t disrupt your sleep later that night.8

5. Bring on the steam

Still dealing with sinus congestion? A little steam can fix that. Here are some easy ways to add steam to your recovery routine:9 

  • Breathe in steam over a bowl of hot water. Lean over the bowl and cover the back of your head with a towel. (Just be careful, since if it’s too hot, it might cause burns.)
  • Take a hot shower and breathe in the steam.

6. Use your time wisely 

When you’re recovering from an illness, time is everything. Notice which parts of the day you feel worse. And make sure to schedule tasks around those times. For example, if your sinus congestion comes back every day in the midafternoon, try scheduling meetings or errands for the morning.  

Another way to lean into recovery while still being productive? Try “time chunking.”10 If you’re able, work for 30 minutes, then take a break for five minutes, and so on. Figure out the time chunks that work best for you.

7. Protect yourself

No one wants to get sick again. And while there’s no shot to protect you from the common cold, there is an annual flu vaccine. Your pharmacist or primary care doctor can help get you a flu shot. Plus, if you have health insurance, you may be able to get one at no cost to you.

“The flu shot may not keep you from getting the flu, but it will likely turn that severe illness into something much less severe,” says Dr. Griffin. That’ll likely mean fewer days off from work or stuck in bed feeling bad. And it may keep you from being hospitalized or severely ill.

One more thing: Don’t forget to wash your hands often.11 This can help protect you from germs. No sink around? Use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol instead.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common Cold. Last reviewed June 27, 2023. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Symptoms & Complications. Last reviewed October 3, 2022. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH News in Health. Hydrating for Health. Published May 2020. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  4. Mayo Clinic. Cold remedies: What works, what doesn’t, what can’t hurt. Last updated June 3, 2022. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH News in Health. Marvels of Mucus and Phlegm. Published August 2020. Accessed on October 17, 2023.
  6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH News in Health. Good Sleep for Good Health. Published April 2021. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Much Sleep Do I Need? Last reviewed September 22, 2022. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  8. Sleep Foundation. Napping: Benefits and Tips. Last updated October 5, 2023. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  9. Mayo Clinic. Acute sinusitis. Last updated August 29, 2023. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  10. Scientific Reports. Chunking as a rational solution to the speed-accuracy trade-off in serial reaction time. Published May 11, 2023. Accessed October 17, 2023.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Habits to Help Prevent Flu. Last reviewed August 26, 2021. Accessed October 17, 2023.

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