If every cough, sneeze, or sniffle you hear in public sends you running the other direction, you’re not alone. During this time of year, the flu sends Americans into a panic, and for good reason. This year alone, the CDC estimates as many as 36 million cases of the flu, and the season is still in full swing. So if the threat of the flu has you quarantined to your home, check out some better ways to avoid the flu this season.

Is it All Hype?

From people wearing masks in public to school closings, signs of the flu are just about everywhere. But is the risk really that great? According to the Centers for Disease Control it certainly is. Every year, thousands of people are hospitalized —and many don’t survive— because of the flu. Those at highest risk include the very young or old and people with compromised immunity.

Part of the problem with the flu is that infected people are contagious at least 24 hours before they start experiencing symptoms. Yep, that coworker you had lunch with yesterday and didn’t show up to work today. . .good chance she already gave you the dreaded flu. Or how about the hundreds of kids who “felt fine yesterday” and missed school today? They’ve already spread it to all of their classmates and teachers. This leads to tip #1 for avoiding the flu this year.

1. Stay Home

Okay, okay. I’m not telling you to become a hermit between the months of October and March. But if you feel the least bit under the weather, it’s best to stay home. If you have the flu, you will avoid sharing it with everyone around you. If you don’t have the flu, you may just have a cold or other minor infection, but this makes you more susceptible to catching the flu. When your immune system is the least bit challenged, your risk is much higher for contracting a secondary infection, such as the dreaded influenza. Staying at home when you don’t feel well is one of the most basic ways to avoid the flu.

2. Wash Your Hands

Your mom was right: The number one recommended way to avoid getting sick is frequent hand washing. Simply touching a contaminated surface won’t give you the flu. But studies show that we touch our faces an average of 15 times per hour. That means that germs from every doorknob, light switch, smartphone, and handrail goes straight from your hands to your lips, nose, eyes, and other absorbent membranous areas. Hand washing is the best defense.

3. Go to Bed

Your body needs sleep. This is especially true when it is dealing with constant challenges to the immune system. There is a reason why you can sleep for hours on end when you’re sick. Your body needs sleep to recover and to fight infection. Numerous studies show a direct correlation with immunity and quality of sleep. Establishing a regular sleep routine can help you avoid the flu this season.

4. Get the Flu Shot

I advocate for gathering information and making choices about healthcare based on what you feel is best for yourself and your family. So do your research, and then decide if the flu shot is for you. The flu shot may decrease your chances of catching the flu. We all know someone who got a flu shot and contracted the flu either as a result of the vaccine or because it simply didn’t work. But according to statistics, the flu shot does, in fact, decrease the odds of getting the flu, so many parents choose to get the shot for themselves and their children.

5. Try a Natural Immune Booster

Start looking for natural flu prevention, and you’ll find dozens of remedies with outlandish claims. In truth, many old wives’ tales have real merit for boosting natural immunity. One remedy that has become more popular over the past few years is elderberry syrup.

This is actually not a new remedy at all, but an old one resurfaced. Some sources report that the use of elderberry for health purposes dates back as far as the Middle Ages. Hippocrates, “the Father of Medicine” described the elderberry plant as a medicine chest because of its ability to alleviate a variety of ailments. But does it work?

Science says it does. Studies show that not only do elderberries help prevent the flu, but they can lessen the duration if you already have the flu. The best thing about elderberry syrup is that it’s relatively inexpensive to purchase or make yourself, and unlike Tamiflu and other flu preventives, there are virtually no side effects to drinking it. This makes it one of the easiest ways to avoid the flu.

Ready to try some? Check out this post for more information and a recipe to make your own Elderberry Syrup. Or click here you’d rather just buy some ready-made.

6. Get Your Sunshine Vitamin

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, serves many purposes in our bodies. Besides helping our bodies absorb calcium, vitamin D improves heart health, supports the pancreas, fights cancer, and can help improve mood-related disorders. When it comes to immunity, vitamin D is a key player as well. Deficiency in vitamin D is associated with increased autoimmunity as well as an increased susceptibility to infection.

To get your daily dose of vitamin D, start by making an effort to spend time out in the sun regularly. If winter weather makes that an impossibility, consider adding a quality vitamin D supplement to your wellness arsenal.

7. Drink Your Water

It’s plain and simple: Water is essential for every single cell in your body. The more your body is taxed by toxins and pathogens, like viruses and bacteria, the more water it needs to flush them out. Plus, water keeps the lymphatic system working in top shape to boost immunity as well. So fill up your glass and drink up!

8. Eat a Balanced Diet

Your immune system thrives on healthy vitamins from food. In contrast, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and processed foods actually deplete the immune system. Be sure to get your fruits, veggies, and whole grains to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to keep the defenses strong.

9. Increase Vitamin C Intake

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a powerful antioxidant that is essential for the growth and repair of tissues. It also strengthens the capillaries that carry oxygen and other necessary nutrients to all parts of the body via the bloodstream. Healthy blood function is vital when your body is fighting off intruders like influenza. Studies show that vitamin C supplementation can both prevent and treat systemic infections.

10. Stay Away From Sick People

Ok, this one seems like common sense. But think about that coworker who just feels a little “off” or the next door neighbor who “just has allergies”. Without being overly paranoid, avoiding the flu means avoiding anyone who may be sick. So if your friend just has a minor scratchy throat (“I’m sure it’s nothing”), take a raincheck on that coffee date. When the guy in front of you in line at the store is hacking and sneezing all over everything within a 4-foot radius, go ahead and excuse yourself to the back of the line.

While we’re on the subject, please train yourself and your children to cough or sneeze into an elbow. This simple behavior can help cut the spread of germs to others who’d rather not share them with you. And if you have the flu or some other illness, please stay home and get well soon.