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How To Stay Healthy At Work (So Your Coworkers Don’t Hate You)

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While there have been a few seasonally-off warm days here in NYC, we have largely moved toward an altogether chillier time of the year. Just like clockwork, that usually means a couple of days here and there where I feel off my game, slightly ill, and vaguely like I’m coming down with something.

I feel as if I’ve never been exposed to so many people (and germs) in my life now that I live and work in NYC. Just the other morning I was riding the subway next to a man who had watery eyes, sneezing fits, and the tell tale dead-in-the-eyes expression and pallor that only a nasty cold/flu can bring on. I briefly considered where he was going and sincerely hoped it wasn’t en route to an office filled with unsuspecting co-workers.

I used to work in a traditional office setting with around 30 people, and this of course meant that I was exposed to infinitely more germs  — a fact that always became problematic during the cold-weather months. When flu and head cold season came around all anyone could do was wait, as if a time bomb was about to go off, to see who would be the first person to fall ill. Once that happened, it was a sure bet that several more people would come into work with runny noses, red eyes, sneezing, and coughing. The rest of the team who remained healthy would then begin washing our hands excessively, staying five feet away from everyone, and lock up our precious kitchen supplies in our desks where they would be safe from germs.

No one likes to be sick, but sometimes it’s unavoidable — you simply catch something and deal with it the best you can. However, what a person does have control over is keeping themselves out of places where it’s more likely that they’ll spread their germs to others. It’s all of our responsibilities to know when it’s time to rest and stay home from work. I know from experience that literally no one considers anyone a hero for strolling into work when they’re clearly not feeling well.

As my own boss I feel the added pressure, now more than ever, to stay healthy this cold-weather season — I want to keep my workflow as efficient as possible! Below are six simple yet powerful tips that everyone should implement in order to stay healthy and do right by their colleagues, friends, and family. If we all take small simple steps there’s a chance that we can prevent the 10-person domino effect occurring at our places of work. Because no one wants to be that person that everyone can point to as “patient zero.”

Know when to call out sick, and listen to your body.

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This is one of the most practical and obvious ways to keep a virus/cold/flu from spreading around your office – simply stay home if you’re not feeling well. At my old job, each employee got Paid Time Off (PTO) that was a set amount each year. You could use it for anything you liked, and because you weren’t assigned “sick” days you didn’t have to feel guilty about using one of your precious three allotted days if you fell ill. The tell-tale signs that you’re probably too sick to go to work (and are contagious) is if you have red eyes, the chills, muscle aches, sneezing, fever, excessive coughing, etc. If you do spike a fever, you’ll need to wait until 24 hours after it has gone down (and you’ve been off medication for it) before you should return to work. Don’t be a hero, just stay home. Your office mates will thank you when the place hasn’t turned into one giant cesspool.

Keep your workspace as clean as possible.

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Did you know that your workspace is dirtier than a toilet seat? It’s like you’re typing on a public toilet seat, so wash those hands! It’s important to use cleaning products that kill germs and frequently wipe down your smart phone! You should be mindful of cleaning items like your keyboard mouse, chair, desk handles, filing cabinet surfaces, and computer screen (I would touch mine all the time when going over design work). These are some great quick and easy sanitary tips to keep your workspace clean. I would say that cleaning once a week is a great to make sure you’re space won’t get you (or anyone else) sick.

Wash your hands f r e q u e n t l y.

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This feels like common sense, but (no joke) I’ve watched grown ass woman literally go into the bathroom and leave without washing up. Even if you’re only popping into the women’s or men’s room to check yourself in a mirror, fix your clothes or makeup, or catch up on the hot office gOsSip, you’ve touched dirty surfaces. Touching door knobs, sink counters, and the handles on paper towel dispensers means you’ve probably picked up some germs. Wash your hands (and under your nails) with hot water and soap for 20 seconds at least to make sure you’ve killed any trace of viruses.

Take care when using common spaces like kitchens, meeting rooms, copier machines, etc.

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At my old job, we joked around that the coffee/tea machine and the baskets containing honey, lemon, and swizzle sticks were virtually off-limits once someone fell ill. Those items were like a breeding ground for more germs since the people who had a cold were typically the ones reaching for the tea and honey. Again this tips seem obvious, but when you’re using common spaces like a kitchen it’s important that you keep your hands away from your nose and mouth. I am guilty of doing this and never realized how many germs I was spreading. I would simply yawn, cover my mouth with my hands, and then proceed to touch copiers and printers. Or I would sneeze into a tissue, but then just roll it up and continue as normal without washing my hands. Be mindful, and you can prevent leaving behind a slug trail of germs wherever you go.

Prevent yourself from getting sick in the first place.

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If you follow these simple tips you’ve got an infinitely better chance of making it through the rest of fall and into winter without losing yourself over to the dark side. Be sure to take care of yourself and treat your body properly. It’s the perfect time for some serious #selfcare (a detox bath is a great idea). Get enough sleep, don’t over schedule yourself (which causes stress and leads to a weakened immune system). Make sure that your diet is varied and you’re getting a full range of nutrients (like Zinc, Iron, Vitamin C, etc.) that your body needs to keep viruses away. If you’re spending prolonged amounts of time outside, be sure to bundle up. These are simple ways you can really take control of your health and make it less likely that the people around you will fall ill as well.

Be a responsible human and follow these super simple tips, because no one wants to be the cause of someone else ending up in a bed littered with used tissues, vitamin packets, and chicken soup stained pillow cases.

Here are so more helpful tips to make it easy to keep your workspace (relatively) germ free, and fight off a cold:

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