On a scale of 1 to “ouch,” we can guarantee the flu shot is far less painful than getting sick. Flu symptoms are much worse than a common cold: think fatigue, body aches, fever, coughing and sneezing. We also don’t yet have a COVID vaccine, so the double whammy of getting both is possible, if not exactly likely.

That’s a pretty scary possibility but no worries, we got you covered! You can absolutely prepare for flu season. Prevention is key, but we’ll also talk about what to do if you aren’t feeling well.

When Is Flu Season Anyways?

According to Verywellhealth.com, flu season fluctuates every year. It typically starts in the fall—usually November—and will peak during mid-winter. However, that’s not always the case; in the 2011-2012 flu season, the peak came in mid-March. In the 2018-2019 season, the peak happened in February. In between, it fluctuated by a few weeks each year.

Preparing is the best way to make sure you don’t get sick, so let’s go over 7 things you absolutely must do before flu season is in full swing.

Staying On Top Of Flu Season

  • Get your flu shot. The CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months get their flu shot by the end of October, because it takes your body at least two weeks to begin producing protective antibodies. Even if you missed that deadline, go ahead and get vaccinated; this is especially important in years where flu season drags on, or even peaks, in spring. Most local pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens offer the shot inexpensively with insurance, and your local government health department will carry it as well. Check for your cheapest option; flu shots are usually affordable even without health insurance!
  • Sign up for healthcare if you need it. If you don’t have health insurance, treatment for minor illnesses can really rack up, and even make you think twice about going to the doctor. But the flu is a serious illness, and you need to make sure you can get treatment. If you don’t have healthcare, you may qualify for the ACA (Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare) in the U.S. This is government-subsidized healthcare, so if you meet certain income requirements you may get a discount each month. If you’ve recently moved jobs, check with your new employer about healthcare options. This is not the year to go without healthcare!
  • Prioritize sleep. One of the best, free ways to boost your immunity and prevent infection of any kind is simply getting enough sleep. Even a few days without enough sleep negatively impacts your body, according to Women’s Health Mag. You need to literally give your body a fighting chance to handle viruses and germs, and it starts in bed (given that it’s, you know, us, we could make puns here, but we won’t just this one time). Adults should get at least 8 hours a night!
  • Control your diet and exercise. We’re not telling you to hop on a fad diet or focus on weight loss; that stuff can actually hurt more than help. However, eating healthy food and getting the right amount of vegetables and nutrients goes a long way toward prepping your body to fight sickness. Exercise matters, too, since staying active improves both physical and mental health. The CDC says “sedentary behavior” increases your overall mortality rate, in part because it’s easier to get sick. Aim for healthy meals you actually enjoy eating and making staying active a daily habit.
  • Practice good social hygiene. Things we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic: social hygiene works. Wearing a mask, staying 6 feet or more apart in public spaces (aka social distancing) and washing hands well and frequently greatly reduces your chances of getting ill. Flu season is no different, so you’ll want to use your coronavirus skills, according to Women’s Health. Practicing good social hygiene and social distancing can help reduce the transmission of the flu, COVID-19 and other illnesses, too, so stick with CDC guidelines until flu season is over.
  • Get tested if you feel ill. If you feel sick, you need to seek treatment and get tested. Flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms can often feel similar, and you’ll want to know what you’re dealing with. Many cities offer free COVID-19 testing, and almost every rapid-care clinic or general physician tests for the flu. Make a doctor’s appointment or visit your local health department—just make sure to check online for your doctor or city’s guidelines. Some locations will offer one test or another, and you don’t want to waste time.
  • Load up on supplies. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We promise, having the right supplies on hand when you’re sick feels much better than struggling through a grocery store when you’re feverish and weak. According to HealthGrades.com, you’ll need to stock up on over-the-counter medicines like fever reducer (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc), cough medicine, and mucus medication. Don’t leave out comfort items like soup! And you might want to grab a bottle of electrolyte solution, like Pedialyte. Lastly, think of other health items like humidifiers, oil diffusers, a thermometer, and tissues or hand sanitizer. Your current sick self will thank your past self for being so smart!

Flu season is never fun, and with coronavirus still a global concern, it’s likely to be more serious until a vaccine is delivered. We recommend preparing and stocking up on healthcare items as you can.

Don’t forget to check in on friends and neighbors, too. Many high-risk loved ones may not be able to go to the store, and we should each be doing our part. After all, one ill person can drastically impact an entire community!

And obviously, it’s just good manners to help each other out. Stay well!