How to Have a ‘Sick Day’ When You Can’t Actually Call Off Work


Dr. Van Groningen says that you can also alternate taking acetaminophen and ibuprofen to get better, round-the-clock control of a fever or pain that isn’t responding to one alone. “I will often recommend that my patients stagger them roughly four hours apart.” If you don’t want to juggle an alternating schedule, you can also buy tablets that combine the two.

Any time you’re taking over-the-counter medications, make sure you’re following the dosage instructions on the package and keeping track of everything you take and what time you take it. Using a notes app on your phone, the Apple Health app, or a handwritten note can help you stay on top of this. 

Of course, while options like these can help you manage symptoms long enough to get through a shift, they’re only one piece of the puzzle. 

Get as much rest as possible.

Dr. Van Groningen says that if there are ways to make your work day a bit lighter, now is the time to take those steps. If you normally go above and beyond, do what you can to stay below and near in an effort to give your body as much downtime as possible to recover. If you can, take extra breaks, trade shifts to accommodate more rest, and ask coworkers or a supportive manager to help with more taxing tasks.

When your shift ends, do your best to make it an extra early night. Not getting enough sleep has been shown to increase your risk of acquiring a respiratory infection, and sleep is when your body performs necessary tune-ups to all your systems, including your immune system. “The consensus of experts is that too little sleep can prolong your illness,” says Dr. Varma. Feeling under the weather can sometimes make it harder to sleep, but you can try doing relaxing things before bed (like a quick meditation or putting your phone away earlier than usual).

Drink plenty of fluids (soup counts!).

As SELF has previously reported, it’s important to stay on top of your fluid intake when you’re ill. Sick people lose fluids more easily through excess sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea. Couple any of those symptoms with a job where you sweat due to physical labor, or a work setting where you can’t have food or drinks outside of designated times, and you could find yourself getting dehydrated

If your job offers little opportunity for repeatedly refilling a water bottle or taking hydration breaks, Dr. Van Groningen recommends drinking electrolyte-rich Pedialyte versus water alone. She also swears by an old standard: “Chicken noodle soup is the perfect blend of fluid and sodium, as well as protein and carbohydrates.” In the immortal words of Ina Garten, store-bought soup is fine—and there are lots of break-room-friendly microwavable options that’ll make it even easier to consume.

If you’re having symptoms that make it hard to eat or keep food down, Dr. Varma says Gatorade, in addition to Pedialyte, can also be a good source of both sugar- and electrolyte-aided hydration. If it’s been 24 hours and you still can’t keep food or drink down, or you’re experiencing continual vomiting and diarrhea, he advises getting to a doctor to make sure you’re not dangerously dehydrated or sick with something that will need further treatment to improve.  

Do your best to minimize the chances of getting others sick.

Dr. Van Groningen, Dr. Blackstock, and Dr. Varma all agree that the precautions we all became familiar with early in the COVID-19 pandemic are good ways to prevent the spread of infectious illnesses in general. These include wearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask like a KN95 or N95; staying up-to-date on your recommended vaccinations; frequent and thorough hand washing; social distancing; and good ventilation.


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