The United States is only about halfway through the most intense portion of this year’s flu season, with the peak of the season usually occurring between December and February. As predicted by researchers at the CDC, it is one of the most severe flu seasons in recent history — and it doesn’t seem to be letting up quite yet. Given the severity of this year’s flu, it’s no surprise many folks who have yet to be sick are dreading the idea of contracting the flu. Dr. Alan Taege, an infectious disease doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, told Bustle in a recent article that "there's always the anxiety of any significant infection going around the country." Meaning, if you’re feeling a bit more anxious than usual about the viral infection, you’re not alone. So, how do you cope with flu anxiety? Here are a few tips on how to deal with your fear of getting sick.
Preparation is a key tool in decreasing situational anxiety — whether your worry is surrounding an upcoming test, life event, or the flu season. One the best ways to avoid flu-related anxiety is making sure you’re prepared for the possibility that you could catch the virus, and taking active precautions to prevent yourself from contracting the flu. First and foremost, receiving your annual flu shot — if you have still yet to get it — is super important. Though the CDC reported the seasonal flu shot is less effective than previous vaccines, getting the flu shot can still make make your symptoms less severe if you do catch the virus. Also, taking necessary precautions like washing your hands, practicing good hygiene, and avoiding contact with people who have the flu may help calm your nerves. Sure, there’s still a possibility you’ll catch the flu, but at least you did what you could to avoid it! Also, some pharmacists suggesting stocking up on a homemade flu kit — complete with water, hand sanitizers, and decongestants — just in case you start to feel the virus coming on.
Another way to help calm any anxiety about catching the flu is to exercise and get your body moving. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout.” The ADAA adds exercising “may improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress.” Not only does exercising have mood-boosting qualities, but it may also help give your immune system the boost you need to avoid the flu. “Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu, or other illness,” reported MedlinePlus, the site for the National Institutes of Health. While exercising before you catch the flu is beneficial to both you mental and physical wellness, the CDC recommends you stay home, relax, and get lots of rest if you have gotten the flu.
If you don’t want to exercise, consider trying different techniques to chill out, and take flu season off your mind. According to the Mental Health Foundation, “Learning relaxation techniques can help you calm feelings of anxiety Practices like yoga, meditation, or massage will relax your breathing and help you manage the way you feel about stressful experiences.”
Most importantly, keep practicing the coping skills you utilize all year long to manage your anxiety, and check in with your mental health support system about how you’re feeling. It’s not out of the norm to have anxiety around the possibility of getting sick, but try not to let that fear of the flu interrupt your day-to-day life. Taking small measures to reduce your anxiety abut the flu can go a long way.