10 ways to stay healthy this flu season

As a nurse and the mom of a kindergartener, I am pretty psychotic about germs. I'm that crazy woman wiping down our seats on the airplane with antibacterial wipes and washing my hands until they're raw. I know how fast an illness can take down our entire family, so I leave nothing to chance. Oh, your friend is coughing? Let's play over here instead. You dropped that on the ground? Leave it, it's not worth it!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to stay healthy this time of year is getting your flu shot. Flu shots are usually available starting in September or October. You can see your regular doctor for one or just drop by your local pharmacy or health department. Already been poked? Read on for 10 more ways to stay healthy and vibrant all winter long.

Wash those hands

Turns out your mom was right about washing your hands before dinner. Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the best ways to prevent germs. Aim to scrub your hands with soapy water for a full 20 seconds. No water nearby? Always carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you. Check the label and make sure the sanitizer is at least 60 percent alcohol.

Try to wash your hands throughout the day, and always after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. And if you're riding the subway with someone who can't stop coughing, break out the hand sanitizer right away!

Get some rest

Getting plenty of sleep is another way to fend off the flu. Healthy adults should aim for seven to eight hours per night. "Sufficient sleep is not a luxury — it is a necessity," says Wayne H. Giles, MD, MS, Director of the Division of Population Health at the CDC. "And should be thought of as a vital sign of good health."

If you're still feeling wired at bedtime, try making a few small tweaks in your evening routine. Stay on a regular schedule and try to go to bed around the same time every night, even on the weekends. Keep anything with a screen outside of your bedroom. Shutting down your TV or phone at least an hour before bed will help your brain relax. If you're used to falling asleep with the TV on in the background, try reading a book or chatting with your partner instead.

Chill out

Feeling chronically stressed doesn't just affect your mood, it actually lowers your immune system. Feeling stress all the time runs down your body, putting you more at risk for the cold and flu. If you're noticing that you feel stressed or on edge most of the time, it's time to make some changes. A mental health provider could help, but there are also some habits you could try on your own.

Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day can help manage stress. Practicing mindfulness with yoga or meditation is also proven to ease stress. And always make time for fun! Scheduling dates with friends and family protect you from stress. Cocktails with the ladies? Yes, please!

Get moving

Going for a jog or bike ride won't just make you feel good in the moment. It can actually strengthen your immune system! Neil Schachter, a professor of pulmonary and critical care at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, explained to Real Simple that moderate activity strengthens our T-lymphocytes, the white blood cells that fend off illness. Exercise also helps manage stress, which is vital to preventing respiratory illness. Your workout doesn't have to be intense. Just lacing up your shoes and going for a brisk walk will get the blood pumping. Find an activity you enjoy and look forward to.

Meditate

Practicing meditation is an easy and free way to stay healthy. Slowing down and focusing on the present moment will, of course, help you reduce stress, but it can keep your physical body healthy too. Studies have shown that a regular meditation practice can help protect against respiratory diseases. To get started with meditation, try setting your alarm just five minutes earlier in the morning. Sit up straight and take deep inhales and exhales, focusing on your breath. Once you're in a regular meditation routine, studies have shown that you'll cut down on your sick days from work. Save that time for vacations! Regular meditators also have shorter colds and flus than those who don't meditate.

Meditation may even save you a little money this holiday season. According to the American Journal of Health Promotion, regular mediators pay less in medical bills each year than those who don't make time for mindfulness.

Eat healthy

Eating a balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables keeps your body feeling good and fighting off infections. Cindy Moore, the director of nutrition therapy at the Cleveland Clinic, recommended to Real Simple that we focus on foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to prevent the flu. "The antioxidants protect the body's tissues against stress and inflammation and enhance immune function," she says. "Omega-3 fatty acids promote blood flow and the production of anti-inflammatory substances."

If you already feel that tickle in the back of your throat, don't fear! Whip up your grandma's chicken soup and rest. Turns out chicken soup isn't just comforting when you're sick. It actually contains properties that kill the germs that cause respiratory illnesses!

And while your soup simmers, toss in some flu-fighting spices. Ginger can protect against rhinovirus, the virus responsible for causing the common cold. Garlic also works as an antiviral and boosts the immune system.

Don't share

It may not be the best example to set for your toddler, but avoid sharing during flu season. Of course, never share anything that touches your mouth like drinks or chapstick. It's also important to avoid touching anything that your sick friend has touched. You may look like a bit of a germophobe, but if she offers you a pen, just say no. Same goes for shaking hands with someone who is ill.

If you're taking care of a child or family member who is sick, you, of course, won't be able to avoid contact. In that case, just try to sneak away and wash your hands as much as you can.

Take time off

If you've been feeling like you're coming down with something, just stay home. Resting will not only help you recover faster, it will keep your favorite co-workers from catching what you have, which keeps everyone happy.

Make sure you've been fever-free for 24 hours before getting back to work or school. Stay home and binge watch Real Housewives? Okay, twist our arm!

Clean up

Always wipe down commonly used surfaces, like door knobs, phones, and laptop keyboards with a disinfectant wipe. When I arrive at work in the morning, I try to spend a minute or two wiping down the clinic phone, counters, and computers. I do not want to bring home any souvenirs from the hospital!

Feel grateful

Practicing feelings of gratitude won't just make you feel happier, it could actually make you healthier! "Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person's life," Robert A. Emmons, professor of psychology at UC Davis tells Today. "It can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep."

Practicing gratitude boosts your immune system. One study looking at law students found that students who reported feeling optimistic had enhanced immune systems.