The lights are up, candles are lit, music is playing.
Delicious smells are wafting through your house and presents are piling up.
The holidays are officially here, and everyone is gearing up to celebrate.
But we're not the only ones ready to boogie.
Germs and viruses are having their own parties right under (or in!) our noses, and if you're not careful you'll be the next unwilling host for their contagious holiday festivities.
Nothing is worse than feeling sick when you want to relax and spend time with your loved ones, so it's a good idea to take precautions wherever you can.
Here are 5 things you can do to keep yourself & your family healthy through the holidays:
Wash Your Hands...the Right Way (Please!)
The #1 way to prevent the spread of germs and viruses is to wash your hands throughout the day.
Frequent hand washing protects you from any invisible grossness you might have touched, and it also protects those around you by stopping the spread from traveling any further.
The problem is, you're washing your hands all wrong.
I'll be honest with you, as a healthcare professional I get pretty grossed out when I see the way most people wash their hands.
You can't just run your hands under water for a few seconds and think that you're good to go (well, you can, but you'd be wrong).
To actually make an impact on the biological landscape of your hands, you've got a lot more scrubbing to do.
About 20 seconds of it, to be precise. With soap.
That's the same amount of time it takes for you to sing happy birthday to you (or twinkle twinkle little star, or the alphabet song, whichever you like).
While you're humming to yourself, scrub your palms, the backs of your hands, the space between your fingers, your fingernails, and your wrists.
If it takes you longer than the length of the song to spread those suds then so be it!
The more thorough you are the better.
In fact, if you're going to be handling other people's food, or if you or people near to you are actively sick, it's a good idea to rinse and repeat (i.e. wash your hands twice in a row).
Wash your hands when you come in from outside, after you've been in a bathroom, before you eat or handle food, after you've blown your nose, before and/or after you touch your face, after you've touched door-nobs or other surfaces lots of people come in contact with...you get the idea.
Yup, that's a whole lot more hand washing than you're probably doing now, but if you want to stay healthy it's what you should do...and teach your family to do the same.
And here's another pro tip: after you've washed your hands, turn the faucet off with your elbow or a towel, so you don't recontaminate your hands.
Because after all of that work? Well, that would just be sad.
Use Your Elbow
My venting session isn't over yet guys (almost though, I promise!).
I've got just one more pet-peeve to share you: when people cough and sneeze into their hands.
Holy moly, this one drives me bonkers!!!
Think about it: if you cough into your hands and then use your hands to touch things other people come in contact with (and you will, unless you wash your hands immediately afterwards, which I'm guessing you won't), then you just created a little perfect little germ and virus transport that they're thrilled to catch a ride on.
There's a better way my friend: cough and sneeze into your elbow, and turn away from other people when you do.
The germs and viruses that float around this time of year tend to be air-borne, so it's important to keep other people out of the line of fire (as you are probably trying to do by covering your mouth with your hands.)
But to really protect your community from your germs you've got to go further.
So use your elbow and keep your hands clean, will you?
Alright. I'm done voicing my hygienic grievances.
These next three tips will help you build up your defenses from the inside, giving your immune system the super-strength it needs to make it through "the season of germs and viruses" as close to unscathed as possible.
First off, sleep.
If you want to stay healthy through the holidays, you've got to sleep.
In fact, according to Chinese medicine theory you should be sleeping 1-3 more hours every night in the winter than you do in the summer.
That means that if you need 7 hours of sleep in July, you might need 10 hours of sleep in January.
Sleep doesn't just make you function better throughout the day, it gives your body a chance to heal and recover from whatever you encountered throughout the day.
In fact, studies have shown that people who don't get enough sleep have significantly compromised immune systems.
So if you want to keep your immune system in tip-top shape, plan on getting to bed earlier and staying in bed a later til the weather starts getting warmer again.
Focus on the Good
Another way to boost your immune system and ward off disease is to make sure you're eating the most nutrient-dense foods you can get in your mouth.
(I'm talking at least a cup of cooked veggies at every meal, fruits as snacks, bone and veggie broth in anything and everything you cook...)
Instead of trying to avoid the cakes and cookies and deliciously caloric beverages that are in such abundance this time of year (because let's be real here, they're nearly impossible to avoid), just shift your focus to fill up on veggies and fruits as much as you possibly can.
When you fill up on the good stuff, you can still enjoy the treats here and there without worrying so much about over-indulging.
Give your body the nutrients it needs and your immune system will have a much easier time fighting off any nasty little buggers it comes in contact with.
Take Elderberry Syrup
This last tip is every western herbalist's favorite secret.
Elderberry syrup is an amazingly powerful (and delicious!) natural remedy, with a long list of healthy benefits.
Take a tablespoon of organic elderberry syrup (preferably pure or made with honey, not agave or sugar) 2-3x/day to give yourself an extra defensive boost.
Up the dose if you notice people around you getting sick, or if you start having symptoms like a scratchy throat, runny nose, or fatigue.
Want more cold and flu fighting tips? Check out this article from the Della Terra Wellness archives.
Now I'd love to hear from you.
What tips, tricks, or natural remedies do you use to keep yourself and your family healthy through the holidays?
Leave a comment below in the comments section and help inspire others for a healthy holiday season!
This article originally appeared on the Della Terra Wellness blog.