Beat Winter's Double Whammy

We face a double challenge this year - coping with winter ills and the current financial crisis.

As if things weren't bad enough it seems that this combination could trigger an increase in the number of us suffering from seasonal colds and flu.

Money's short, jobs are at risk, and so there's pressure to avoid taking time off from work through unnecessary illness.

It all adds up to suffering rocketing stress levels, which in turn can potentially weaken our immune system - the body's first line of defence in fighting off germs.

But can our personalities make us more at risk of becoming one of the nine million people annually, on average, who suffer the sniffles and sore throats after contracting one of the estimated hundreds of viruses currently in circulation in Australia?

"While there's no scientific evidence that our personality affects our chances of acquiring infections, it is likely that worriers and complainers are more likely to be inclined to high levels of stress and
anxiety," says personality psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson.

"Stress plays a huge part in weakening the immune system, as people suffering from it are inclined to eat less healthily, be less active and sleep badly. This can make them more prone to germs."

He points out that the upbeat and optimistic are more inclined to be relaxed and enjoy a healthier way of life with more stable eating and sleeping patterns.

"They may feel they suffer less from colds because of their outlook."

The effect of personality is highlighted by research from the University of California, which suggests that shy, socially inhibited people are more vulnerable to viral infections.

In animal studies, scientists found that gregarious types had more active protective lymph nodes than shy types. Lymph nodes are part of the body's immune system and help to destroy infectious germs, such as viruses like the common cold and bacteria.

Also the way we suffer from a cold reveals a lot about our personality according to a survey by cough medicine manufacturers, Covonia, who polled 5,000 people.

Research found that 58% of people blame their colleagues for giving them the infection, while 37% don't care whether other people catch their germs. A further 12% even secretly hope other people will suffer as well so they appreciate how bad they felt.

They discovered that cold sufferers fall into four categories when they have the sniffles - Martyrs, Complainers, Worriers and Non-Believers.

"People do approach colds in many different ways, and to some extent their behaviour when they're suffering from them will reveal their personalities," Dr Wilson says.

"Some will use illness to their advantage by exploiting their symptoms, especially if they feel insecure in their relationships or in need of affection, while others are more resilient and will battle through their symptoms."

Check out which type of cold sufferer you are and what it reveals about you.

WHICH COLD TYPE ARE YOU?

Research by Covonia has revealed the four following 'cold' personalities.

:: THE MARTYR

You're most likely to stoically suffer in silence throughout your cold if you're a woman.

It's probably because you've been brought up to believe that everyone's needs should come before yours, so you feel guilty about inconveniencing anyone even if you do feel terrible.

In reality, you are probably too busy caring for everyone else to have time to dose yourself up. This type accounts for around 44% of cold and flu victims.

General Personality: You set high standards for yourself and worry what others think about you.

You're most likely to cheerfully say "I'm feeling better every day" followed by "anyway, never mind me, how are you?".

:: THE NON-BELIEVER

You're a 'brave soldier' and refuse to accept that you're unwell.

Around 25% fall into this category.

You constantly downplay symptoms in an attempt to convince yourself and others that there's no problem.

Unfortunately, you unwittingly annoy those around you if you insist on coming to work and spreading the germs.

General personality: You need to feel in control and may be rather shy, but are often caring and a good listener.

During a cold you regularly insist, "I'm fine, nothing wrong with me," which may run completely contrary to the evidence of your glowing red nose and mounting piles of tissues.

:: THE COMPLAINER

You like nothing better than a good moan and bask in the TLC you gain from revealing how poorly you feel.

Although only 22% of cold sufferers fall into this category, your type makes itself felt because typically, you are extremely vocal about your symptoms.

Any inquiry about your health is viewed as an invitation to provide every detail about rises in temperature and throat soreness. You're probably started the day by giving friends and colleagues an update on your condition.

General Personality: You may have had a close relationship with a nurturing mother who paid attention to every health complaint, no matter how small.

You want to be the centre of attention but can be insecure. You egocentrically regard a cold as a problem limited to you and repeatedly whinge: "Why did I have to get a cold now?". This is followed by loud nose blowing, exaggerated coughing, throat clasping and groans.

:: THE WORRIER

You're most likely to be found queuing in the GP's surgery because you want to check out whether your cold is something more serious.

This is the smallest category of sufferers - only 7% - and these people have a tendency to hypochondria.

Worriers probably help account for the statistic revealed by Boots showing that around 66% of GP time is spent dealing with minor ailments such as coughs and colds.

General Personality: You may have lacked attention in childhood and were made to feel incapable of taking care of yourself.

You're conscientious and take pride in being thorough, paying attention to detail and performing to the best of your ability.

You're most likely to say, "I'd rather be safe than sorry", to justify going to the doctor about your cold, which may be the correct view if the symptoms continue or worsen over a period.

BEAT THE COLDS STRATEGY

:: COVER UP: Covering up your nose and mouth when outdoors in cold weather may help. This is because the cooling down of the nose causes a slowdown of the infection fighting cells inside the nose.

:: KEEP ROOMS WELL VENTILATED: Over-warm and centrally heated rooms help the germs multiply. Try to ensure you get outdoors for regular doses of fresh air.

:: WASH YOUR HANDS: Wash hands frequently and ideally use an antibacterial hand gel.

"Cold germs can be passed by touch as they linger on door handles, taps and toilet flushes, telephones and keyboards," says TV doctor and GP Rob Hicks.

"Washing hands frequently during the day and after using public transport is an excellent precautionary measure."

:: BE SMOKE-FREE: Either don't smoke or stay away from smokers as research from Harvard Medical School shows that smokers are more likely to have prolonged symptoms of a cold. Passive smokers are more likely to catch a cold and suffer the symptoms longer than non-smokers.

:: BOOST YOUR IMMUNITY: Keep your immune system in tip-top shape by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and a healthy balanced diet. Try to limit stodgy, comfort or 'fast' foods to occasional treats. Also ensure you drink up to eight glasses of water (or other fluids) a day.

:: MANAGE YOUR STRESS: Stress can turn us into couch potatoes.

"A knock-on effect of stress is that people become less active, but to keep our immune system functioning well we need exercise, and to do pleasurable activities that boost our mood," Dr Hicks says.

"Laughter's also reported to boost our immune system."

:: FIRST AID FOR SUFFERERS

Dr Hicks says we should aim to drink up to eight glasses of water a day to flush out toxins and support the immune system.

"I'm also a great believer in a honey, lemon and fresh ginger drink," he says.

"Lemon contains Vitamin C, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and honey is soothing."

Keep paracetamol and ibruprofen in the medicine cabinet so you can quickly relieve the symptoms of temperature and aches and pains as soon as they occur.

Relieve discomfort with an over-the-counter remedy to treat specific symptoms like catarrh, sore throat or cough.

Eat well and ensure your diet contains plenty of zinc, and vitamin C and E found in seeds, nuts, cereals, bread, vegetables and citrus fruits.

Get eight hours sleep and avoid unnecessary stresses and strains.
Snapper

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