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.