With back to school out of the way and the holidays about to arrive, another season is upon us: cold and flu season. I’ll be the first to sympathize with the challenges of staying on top of your studies when you’re fighting a fever, a cough, and congestion—when you’re miserable and more tired than usual. In high school and college, casually taking a week off to completely recover from a cold typically isn’t an option. Here are some quick do’s and don’ts to successfully recover from an illness without falling behind on your academics.
Do take care of yourself
When you’re sick, one of the most important things you can do is rest and get enough sleep. This goes for just about every illness. Even though it’s easy to feel judged based on how much you accomplish as a student, this is one occurrence where the challenge is to do as little as possible. Use this as an opportunity to catch up on your sleep. Not only will this help your immune system fight and body restore itself, but establishing a good sleep schedule will help you fight off illness in the future.
Don’t go to class when you’re contagious
There are times when it’s beneficial to miss class. For example, if you’re so sick you can’t concentrate on anything other than how awful you feel, it’s probably a better idea to stay home. This goes without saying, but if you have something highly contagious such as the flu or strep throat, stay home until you’re not contagious to avoid giving it to those around you. Your teachers and classmates will thank you! And if you’re sick with something milder like a cold, wearing a mask is normal since the pandemic—so don’t feel weird about masking up for school to protect others and still be present in class.
Do return as soon as possible
It makes a world of difference to be present in your classes each day. So while you should take the time you need to recover, don’t milk it for all it’s worth. Many studies correlate consistent attendance with strong academic performance. Therefore, missing class is something you should avoid as much as possible if you’re starting to feel better. Not only do you miss lessons and explanations of what you’re learning, but you’ll also have to make up more work.
Don’t feel guilty about saying no
It’s okay to skip a club meeting, sports practice, or family event in the name of rest and recovery. One of the most common reasons our immune systems become prone to illness is overscheduling and not giving ourselves enough time to sleep and relax. We often think just a little cold means we don’t need to slow down our lifestyles, but the more you drain yourself, the longer you’ll be sick. Just say no!
Do communicate with your teachers
Ever heard the saying “communication is key”? It’s true! Let your teachers know that you’re sick and going to miss class before class starts. This is not only the responsible thing to do for attendance purposes, but it also demonstrates that you’re serious about their classes and strengthens your relationship with them as a student. If you’re going to be out for an extended period of time, find out how you can keep up with what’s going on in class from home.
Don’t expect a pass on missed assignments
Being sick doesn’t give you a free pass on schoolwork. Most schools have protocols for how long students have before makeup work is due after returning (at my high school, it was five days), but sometimes it also depends on your teacher. You’re not entitled to exemptions from assignments. In certain cases, your teacher may say you don’t have to participate in something you missed in class, but don’t assume this will be the case. A good way to see what you’re expected to make up is to email and ask.
Do makeup work in a timely manner
Waiting until you return to school to catch up on what you missed will most likely result in a landslide of work as you scramble to catch up with past assignments and deal with current assignments. Like I said before, keep up with your classes even when you’re out sick. You’ll feel a lot more productive even as you binge-watch Netflix and eat chicken soup. Remember that you would normally be spending hours at school, so doing a couple hours of homework is still better than a full day of classes. Keeping up will pay off in the long run and will make the return to school much more painless when you don’t have makeup work deadlines looming.
Related: Top 10 Ways to Avoid Procrastination
After getting sick, the last thing you want is to get sick again. Make sure to wash your hands frequently, get enough sleep, make time for exercise, get your flu and COVID-19 shots, and avoid sharing food and drinks with others. Also protect your body by not overloading yourself with responsibilities, thus reducing stress. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty if you just can’t do something, whether or not you’re sick—it’s more important to be an active and healthy participant in a few things than a burnt-out student who's spread too thin.