A few of my naturopathy clients lately have been asking me why they have good days but then maybe a bad day. I’ve also had clients who might recover from a virus but then will have days when they feel like their symptoms are threatening to flare up again.
Maybe this is you…that feeling that something is still bubbling under the surface and if you overdo things your health will take a couple of steps backward.
What is convalescence?
I remember when I was studying my degree, my lecturers would talk about the importance of convalescence after an illness. This is different to treating the illness.
Convalescence is the all important recovery phase after the symptoms have subsided and it is something that I find many people don’t take the time to do (or at least they don’t do it well).
In our rush to get back to work or to get back to our usual routines (which may have led us down the path of illness in the first place) it is easy to overlook the need for convalescence. This is where the body, having fought off the imminent threat, does it’s all important repair and restoration work to get you back to your pre-illness state and, ideally, stronger than before you got sick.
Without convalescence, your body may survive the immediate health problem but it could be left just that bit weaker and less able to deal with the next threat that comes along. Hence, the frequent sore throat or swollen glands, the lingering fatigue, the recurrent infections, the periodic “crashing”, the recurrent digestive niggles or whatever might be your particular weakness.
The 4 steps to successful convalescence
What can you do to provide the foundations for good recovery from illness?
- Sleep – you need good quality sleep…not too much but enough to enable all the repair and rebuilding that takes place while you sleep. You may need additional nutritional or herbal support to facilitate good sleep and here are 9 ways to improve your sleep to get you started.
- A balance of rest and activity during the day. This can be tricky. You want to aim for enough activity to push your system without “breaking” it. The great herbalist, Simon Mills, likens this to “acting like a butterfly”. Spend no more than 5-10 minutes on any one activity, then move onto a different one. It changes the patterns of mental and physical activity in your body and a change can be as effective as a rest. Be active (walking is wonderful) but limit exercise to avoid fatigue. For someone who is debilitated, this might mean only a couple of minutes of gentle walking.
- Eat for convalescence. When you are in the middle of your symptoms, you may not be eating much at all. So when the symptoms subside, it is important to reintroduce foods in a way which is kind to your digestion. The goal is to nourish without placing large digestive demands on your body. Start with vegetables and broths. Then gradually reintroduce the harder-to-digest foods starting with grains, legumes, fish and eggs and finally meat.
- Take your herbal tonics. We have an extensive armoury of herbal medicine to help combat illnesses of all kinds but convalescence is where the herbal tonics really come to the fore. The tonic herbs help to refuel and repair the body. Herbs like Withania somnifera , Valerian officinalis, Astragalus membranaceous are just some of the wonderful tonic herbs and should be prescribed by a qualified naturopath or herbalist according to your individual needs.
How long should you convalesce for?
Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this question.
It will depend on how unwell you have been. For some, perhaps getting over a cold, it might just mean a day or a couple of extra days, taking things easy, getting an early night, eating nourishing food and taking some herbs.
For others, who have suffered from a chronic or debilitating health problem for months or even years, then convalescence will take time.
This doesn’t mean you have to be confined to the couch for weeks on end, it just means you need to be SMART and give your body the love and support it needs to fully recover after the symptoms of the immediate crisis have resolved. It means learning to pace yourself and putting some of that new-found feeling of wellness “in the bank” rather than rushing out and “spending” it all at once.