Nobody talks about how crummy it is when you’re single with the sniffles

'You just have to push through.'

Nobody talks about how crummy it is when you’re single with the sniffles
Nobody talks about how crummy it is when you're single with the sniffles
When you’re sick and vulnerable, you might yearn for a partner to rely on (Picture: Getty Images/Image Source)

You’re reading Solo, a week-long series by Metro.co.uk exploring the highs and lows of single life in 2024.

When you’re under the weather, sometimes all you want is someone to tuck you in, bring you some hot soup and tell you to rest up.

Yet single people are often left to deal with coughs, colds and flus alone – and it could be hampering their recovery.

‘I have a tendency to do more than I should while recovering as there’s no-one else to do it,’ says Janine McDonald, 53, from Salford. ‘You just have to push through.’

She’s one of over 16 million single people around the UK. Through the law of averages, we can surmise that the vast majority of this group will have got sick at one time or another, especially since the start of the pandemic when more than half of the UK population has had Covid.

Friends and family tend to rally round when someone has a major health scare; cancer, broken bones, a heart attack. But when the issue is ‘minor’, loved ones are less inclined to offer help.

While of course there are exceptions to this rule, even those with a great support network may end up dealing with common-or-garden illnesses alone when they wouldn’t in more serious situations. After all, no one wants to call in the troops over a bug they’ll probably get over in a few days.

Janine McDonald 53
Salford Professional Organiser
As a single and self-employed parent, illness can be difficult for Janine (Picture: Supplied)

When you live alone, though, the little things can be the most frustrating. And tasks like cooking meals or taking out the bins become even harder to shoulder on your own when you’re unwell.

The NHS recommends plenty of rest and sleep, along with water and painkillers to deal with the aches and pains that come with this type of malady. In this respect, not having a partner around can be both a blessing and a curse.

Sylvia Tillmann, 56, works as an alternative practitioner in East Kent and has been happily single for years. She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘When catching a cold or feeling ill, I appreciate that I can take time out and don’t have to worry about anybody else.

‘No, nobody is making any fuss either, but that’s okay – in the past that made me feel even worse and more sorry about myself when boyfriends attempted to do so.’  

Sylvia Tillmann, 56, alternative practitioner, East Kent
Sylvia relishes having nobody to answer to (Picture: Supplied)

The cost of keeping a house warm on one salary has to be taken into account, and the myriad responsibilities that come with single parenting impact this too, creating a recipe for sniffles that just won’t let up.

Janine, who runs a professional organisation business as well as being a mum of two neurodivergent daughters, has been single since 2015. Although she says it can be ’empowering’ to be an independent role model to her children, she finds it challenging at times.

She’s had to learn to let go of guilt over not making ‘proper’ dinners when she’s struggling, and to reach out if things get too much.

‘As a single parent, you don’t have any other option but to keep going when you’re ill,’ Janine says.

‘You have to give the kids dinner, get them to clubs, put them to bed – which, I feel is one of the most stressful activities. Plus, being self employed too means I’m not earning when I’m off sick.

‘Sometimes there’s overwhelm in feeling you have to do it all. All the jobs, all the time.’

How to support yourself when you have a cold or flu

  • Rest, rest, rest and rest some more
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Take paracetemol or ibuprofen to reduce aches and pains
  • Ask a friend or family member to help out with kids or chores where required
  • Keep a neighbour’s number handy in case you need anything
  • Accept help when it’s offered without feeling guilty or demanding
  • Prioritise sleep and recovery over responsibilities that can wait until you’re better
  • Remember it could be worse – you could have a needy partner vying for your effort and attention

Thankfully, you only need yourself for self-care. But quelling that little voice prompting you to worry about tidying or be completely self-sufficient is a must.

Taking time out to recuperate ensures you’ll get better more quickly, and it’ll be a far smoother process to get there.

‘The relationship between sleep and the immune system is thought to be reciprocal,’ explains aesthetic doctor and GP Dr Chandni Rajani

‘Just as a viral infection can disrupt sleep, the immune response itself can influence sleep patterns. Furthermore, sleep deprivation can exacerbate symptoms such as fatigue and congestion, further impeding the individual’s ability to cope with the illness. 

‘When battling a cold, prioritise rest and sleep to recharge the body’s immune system – at least eight hours if possible.’

If in doubt, follow Sylvia’s advice and outsource anything strenuous to friends or tradespeople.

Janine offers similar advice, adding: ‘It’s not always easy to ask for help or support but if friends offer it – accept it.’

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