Essential skills for the modern world

Don't be melodramatic

The famously well-balanced Virginia Woolf penned an essay in which she claimed that illnesses such as flu were so emotionally disturbing that they should have taken their place "with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature".

While this idea is appealing when one is feeling thoroughly rotten, it is a tad melodramatic in a post-Beechams age. Unless struck down with dengue fever and about to carp it, don't lay it on too thick – friends and family will only be sceptical the next time you are afflicted.

Let the doctor diagnose it

Beware the perils of self-diagnosis. Google is invaluable when browsing for holidays or new clothes; lethal when used in lieu of a doctor. Typing one's symptoms into a search engine is the quickest way to escalate them – a headache morphs into a brain tumour, a cold into bronchitis, and tiny rash into measles. It is simple- if you feel ill, go to a doctor.

Give martyrdom a miss

Kudos to the 12-year-old girl who last week admitted that swine flu was "just like a cold". However, while it is important to be honest about how sick one is, don't feel obliged to play down illnesses. Women are especially prone to this, soldiering on amidst claims that they don't have time to be ill. It is worth bearing in mind that this type of martyrdom is only marginally less annoying than man flu.

Take time off

Dragging yourself into the office when suffering a full-blown cold is not stoicism, it is stupidity. Nobody wants a whey-faced colleague breathing germs all over them while whingeing about how poorly they feel. So call in sick, but try not to put on a weak and feeble voice when you call, or people will think that you are faking it. And don't go back to work until you are fully recovered. Being well enough to shower again does not necessarily mean that one is ready to tackle a ten-hour day.