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There is so much to look forward to this time of year: Gathering with family and friends over scrumptious meals, giving and receiving presents, and finally showing off that sexy sweater you’ve been dying to wear. But the change in season also brings an anxious anticipation of getting sick, which seems inevitable when you’re surrounded by coughing coworkers or feverish children. Before you stock up on natural cough drops, syrups and throat coating tea, give your body a chance to defend itself. Here are five tips on how to armour your immune system and prepare for battle. With the following artillery you may not have to call out sick once this year (unless you really need a day in bed).

1. Cut Back on Sugar. As tempting as leftover Halloween candy and a second helping of apple pie may be, be wary of too many treats. Sugar depletes the immune system’s ability to fight off bacteria – you need strong white blood cells to protect you!

2. Keep Alcohol and Caffeine to a Minimum. The seasonal menus at your favorite coffee shop and happy hour are mighty tasty on the tongue, but the body can’t handle too much of either. Coffee may trick you into thinking it’s the best way to start the day, but too much caffeine causes stress that weakens the entire body. A good mixed drinking is relaxing, but it can also dimish nutrients that are vital to combating illness. Instead, drink some spiced herbal tea and sip slowly on one pumpkin martini the whole night.

3. Eat As Many Fresh, Whole Foods As You Can. Finally, something you can indulge in! Go hog wild with every kind of local, organic produce at the market – roast it, steam it, chop it up, combine it with whole grains – the options are endless. Enjoy delicious seasonal foods like squash, apples and wild mushrooms. Pair it up with some bacteria-hating garlic, onion, ginger, green veggies, citrus, spices (like cayenne pepper and chili) to make a meal fit for a resilient king. 

4. Wash Your Hands Often. When you pay attention to how many public surfaces you touch and how often you make hand-to-face contact, you’ll want to scrub your paws every chance you get (before any meals, after using the bathroom, and post cough/sneeze/tissue). Washing is more effective than using hand sanitizer, and doctors recommend that you rub soapy hands together for 20 seconds, get in between fingers and under nails, rinse thoroughly, and dry with a clean towel or air dryer.

5. Rest. Seriously. Working long hours to impress the boss, attending or throwing too many holiday parties, and shopping until you drop is a sure way to render you sick as a dog – you just can’t do it all. Make sure you get plenty of sleep (7-9 hours) and keep yourself as relaxed as possible. Exhaustion and stress can cause inflammation and the release of hormones that supress immunity, not to mention headaches and sore muscles. You’ll feel better immediately and in the long run, which is the key to enjoying the holidays.

Want some more tips on how to keep yourself from getting sick naturally? Check out these articles: