Why the Flu Can Make You Feel Blue

Sick day, with Lucy--Daily Image 2011--February 1

The flu can make you feel depressed. Here’s how to cope.

This flu season has arrived with a vengeance and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already declared it an epidemic in at least 41 states. If you are suffering from this nasty strain, you know that flu symptoms can include intense ache, painful joints, fevers, loss of energy and no appetite.

But did you know that the flu might also be responsible for a cranky mood?

Researchers at Vanderbilt University now believe depression may be triggered by our bodies’ immune system as it attempts to fight off the flu. The immune system releases chemicals called cytokines to help fight the bug. The bad news is that while the cytokines are fighting the flu, they also are lowering our serotonin levels that can lead to depression.

Other reasons you might feel down might are more straightforward. The flu comes on without warning, leaving you overwhelmed and often helpless. You don’t control when it ends. Confined to the house, you are isolated from your community of friends and loved ones. You may feel guilty for missing work and falling behind in schoolwork.

Then there’s the sense that others might not take you seriously.  My patients often tell me, “It’s only the flu. it’s not like I’m dying.” Finally, you usually have little or no appetite. Not eating contributes to feeling weak and out of control. No wonder you feel depressed when you get the flu!

But there are a few things you can do to feel better.


  •  Control what you can and let the rest go. You must accept the fact that you have to stay home and rest. Rest seems so antiquated, such a 20th century fix. Why isn’t there an app to fix this? It seems counter intuitive, but psychologists know that, by accepting what we cannot control, we actually feel more in control.
  • Focus on what you can control. You can control whether you eat enough protein (even when you are not that hungry), stay hydrated and rest when you are tired. These are all essential elements in getting better. When you feel more in control, you feel less depressed as well.
  • Stay connected to friends and family. Flu can make you feel isolated and lonely. Reach out to friends and family by text or email (it takes less energy than a phone call.) Let them know if you need help with groceries, medicines or other chores.
  • Give yourself a break. Think of the flu not as a burden, but as an opportunity, or excuse if you will, to really unplug and take it easy. Once you give yourself permission to lay low, you might find you actually enjoy the quiet.

If you don’t feel better, check with your physician.  Most people get better within 5-7 days. If you are following your physicians’ orders and still don’t feel any better, or feel better, but then start to feel worse , call your physician right away.

The flu is not an enjoyable experience, and in some cases, it can cause serious physical health problems. If you’re feeling blue, moody, sad or depressed, know that it can be part of the experience, even part of your body’s way of helping fight off the illness. You should start to feel emotionally better once your body heals.

What are some ways you have emotionally coped while recovering from the flu? Share your ideas in the comments. 

Photo by tinfoilracoon (via flickr)


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6 Responses to “Why the Flu Can Make You Feel Blue”

  1. Paul   July 2, 2013 at 10:39 am

    For some reason, I catch the flu every spring. I have considered taking the flu shot but I am also scared of needles, and so far haven’t gone that route.

  2. Jackie   June 28, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    I completely agree Nancy, when you have the flu you have to let some things go. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing. Once I get into this mindset and allow my body to feel what it needs to feel, my emotional sense starts to feel much better.

  3. Watson Jackson   June 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    I had experienced Flu last year and it is not that worst experience as I thought it would. You just feel lack of energy to do anything, so the best thing is to relax and take rest, have vitamin reach food and take medicine on time. You will be fine in a week time.

  4. Isaac hashard   June 8, 2013 at 2:37 am

    It is monsoon in India and flu is widely epidemic in this period of time.When I get flu,I usually feel like losing appetite and nauseated.Tremendous weakness,painful joints,dullness,dizziness remain for a long time as an aftermath of flu.Next time I should try to be more active,fresh mentally and indulge myself in some work as you suggested for a speedy physical recovery.

  5. Rachel Lopez   May 17, 2013 at 2:33 am

    It is only natural to feel rather weak if you have an illness but do not make it an excuse to become lazy, whenever possible, help yourself to get back to normal and feel better slowly towards full fitness. it’s hard to fight off infection. This way, by sleeping and resting enough, your body’s natural immune system will be allowed to fight the flu on its own. Drink lots of fluids especially drinks that are rich in vitamins and other nutrients.

  6. Mariah James   April 25, 2013 at 9:42 am

    I too hate he flu. I catch it most of the time when seasons change. I really have a hell of time then. I lose all energy blowing my nose!