By following these simple steps, you’ll know what to do on a sick day: one which focuses on self-care, yet appeals to that need for task completion, and even allows for some long-term planning!
By this time in my life, I should know when I’m getting sick.
I start by feeling overwhelmed, unhappy, and like I hate everyone and everything.
Then I fall asleep on the couch.
Within 12 hours I’m out for the count in bed.
I have a love / hate relationship with sick days.
As a teacher, they always come with extra work. You need to write the lessons the substitute teacher has to deliver and you feel a crazy amount of guilt for not being there, particularly if you’re working on a key assessment task.
On the other hand, teaching requires patience and focus, and when you’re sick, you can be short on both of those qualities.
If you’re suffering from teacher or any kind of sick-day guilt and wondering if you should call in sick or not – I’m telling you – pick the sick day!
Not only will you recover faster, you’ll also stop the spread of germs around your workplace.
Yes, seriously, no one is admiring the fact you’re on your deathbed. They’re hoping like all get out they won’t get your horrible bugs. (And, hello – COVID).
But all that aside, there’s another reason why I don’t like sick days – because as a task-orientated person, my best day is a productive day and being sick is anything but productive.
This last week I was sick for two whole days.
But rather than get frustrated at the fact I couldn’t do anything, I decided to use this time for some practical research into what to do on a sick day to have the best sick day ever (aside from Ferris Bueller’s sick day. That can’t be beat).
Here’s what I learned.
Sleep in on your sick day
I know that you want to wait until the very last minute before you call in sick – just in case you wake up and feel better.
I tell you now, that is not the way.
Make the call the night before that you won’t be going into work, and inform whoever needs to know.
Then write your lesson plans or do whatever you have to do so you can forget about work for a while.
This is important prep work for the first tip- which is to let yourself sleep in until you wake naturally.
Sleep is a fundamental part of the healing process (source), so let your body do its thing. You can’t do that if you’re still wrestling with yourself as to whether you’re even going to have the day off.
When you do finally wake, don’t rush to get up either. Wait until you feel like you have enough energy to get out of bed.
One of the things I hate the most is feeling sweaty and smelly, especially when I’ve had a fever. So my next tip for the best sick day ever is to brush your teeth and then have a bath or shower.
You do have to take come safety precautions with this.
Make sure the water isn’t too cold or too hot.
You don’t want to aggravate your body temperature any more than it already is.
You also don’t want to run the risk of getting dizzy and passing out in the shower. Lukewarm is key.
If I’m feeling really weak, I’ll sit on the floor and wash myself slowly, including my hair, and then take myself off to my sick-nest.
Create a sick nest
The next step is to arrange a sick-nest for yourself either back in bed or on the couch with everything you need within easy access – and if your husband or children can do this for you before they leave the house, that’s even better.
Things you should have around your sick-nest include:
- a blanket
- a pillow
- a glass of water and a water jug
- the TV remote
- your computer
- your phone
- some magazines
- a sick bowl – if your illness is of the vomiting kind
- a small rubbish bin
Having a sick nest is not only convenient, it also keeps all your paraphernalia in a small space, so that you aren’t leaving a trail of tissues and other rubbish in your wake.
Eat, drink and be merry
Well, not that merry. You’re sick after all.
But it is important to keep your fluids up. Decaf tea, water with lemon, soup, or ice chips are recommended over juice, coffee, ginger ale, alcohol and sports drinks for a cold or flu (source).
As for food, it might be hard to imagine eating anything, and it does depend on what illness that you’re suffering from exactly, but bananas, oatmeal and yogurt are safe go-tos (source) that you’re likely to have in the house.
If there’s a show you’ve been dying to binge watch, or a pile of magazines you’ve bought but never had time to read, then now is the time.
Not only will you enjoy yourself, but you’ll get a sense of having achieved something that you wanted to achieve.
Reading a book is a good way to spend the time but it depends on how much you’re able to concentrate.
If I’m sick enough to be at home I usually don’t have the focus to read for extended periods.
However there is something delicious about that heavy feeling you get when you’re reading then dozing, then reading then dozing…
Other suggestions for how to enjoy your sick day:
- read your recipe books and select five meals you would like to try and make
- color in an adult coloring book
- put on a face mask
- order some fresh flowers
- have a bath (remembering what I said about not making it too hot or too cold)
Run errands from the couch
Over my two sick days, I ordered the groceries, bought my dad’s birthday present, and paid the bills – all jobs I needed to do but had yet to find the time for.
Again, if like me you feel stressed by not achieving things during the day, then this is another way to score some quick wins.
Just look for those non-work related jobs and knock them out.
Reflect and plan on your sick day
Enforced time out is also a fantastic time to reflect and plan. You have little choice but to stop doing. It’s therefore prime time to assess the direction your life is heading in.
Start by reflecting. What’s going well? What’s not going so well?
Some time ago now, I worked out that I had 3 big goals for my life.
A sick day is a good chance to get really clear on what YOUR big goals are. Once you have those worked out, all the little ones fall into place – much like the analogy of putting rocks, stones and pebbles into a jar.
If you already have goals, take the time to assess where you’re at with them and break them down into the next five years, year, quarter and so on. Remember start with the big picture first so you have a clear overarching vision.
Finally ask yourself, are your choices helping you make progress towards your goals?
You could also assess how you’re taking care of yourself in general. Physical health is just one part of the equation. You also have your emotional and mental health to consider as well.
Why not take the opportunity to develop your own self care plan for teachers?
What not to do on a sick day
Okay – so we’ve covered what to do on a sick day.
But how about what NOT to do?
- Check work emails. This is my number one for a reason. You are sick. You are not at work. Don’t engage with people as though you were at work. People can be very demanding. It’s up to you to set boundaries and being unreachable is the first one.
- Do work. If your workload is such you need a catch up and there’s no other option, then take a personal day to catch up. But when you’re genuinely ill, the focus needs to be on rest and rejuvenation.
- This one’s specifically if you’re a teacher – Feel guilty if your class misbehaves for a substitute. That’s not on you and it’s not a reflection of you.
- Think you need to catch up on all that housework that needs to be done because you’re at home. There will be time for that later.
And while this may seem a little contentious, I want to reinforce my point about work emails, especially if you are a teacher.
As teachers, we frequently complain about the lack of work life balance, about needing to be available 24/7 but we also often make choices that enable those things to happen.
I know – I once taught a class using Zoom while in bed because I thought what I was doing was so important it couldn’t wait. Well – it can wait. There is nothing that can’t wait.
We’re often told teaching is a vocation and that is used to manipulate us into giving and giving and giving until there’s nothing left to give.
Teaching is a job that we are paid to do, and we give our best to the job but we also recognize when we need to give the best to ourselves.
And when we are sick is when we need to give the best to ourselves.
By sleeping as much as you need, then getting yourself clean, cuddling up in a well-organized space, keeping hydrated and nourished (if possible), enjoying yourself, running some errands, and reflecting and planning, (phew!) you’ll hit all the ingredients of the best sick day ever: one which focuses on self-care, yet appeals to that need for task completion, and even allows for some long-term planning and reflection.
How do you take care of yourself when you’re sick?