Flu season is looming. Unfortunately, while you attempt to avoid the flu, you might feel creeping anxiety from the sense of being so out of control. Anxiety about the flu is common. But with anxiety relief tactics and increased awareness about how you actually can catch the flu, you may be able to feel better than you expected.
First, it's important to acknowledge that being worried about the flu is completely valid. There are three main reasons that these fear makes sense. "You can’t see it," Dr. Joanne Singleton, Professor at the College of Health Professions at Pace University, tells Bustle. "[And] getting the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee that one of the strains in the immunization will be the one that infects everyone. [Plus,] people, especially young, old and those with other health conditions die from the flu." And while serious complications are rare (between 12,000 and 50,000 in 2011-2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control), and only five to 20 percent of the population will get the flu at all, it's still completely reasonable to fear an illness that has so much media buzz and general panic surrounding it.
It's important to remember that a lot of health-conscious people are going to have similar worries to you this flu season. "Know that you’re not alone," therapist Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, tells Bustle. "A lot of people worry about getting the flu. It’s no fun to get! Try to keep focused on what’s actually happening in the moment instead of getting caught up in the 'what-ifs' and worst-case scenario thinking. If you do get sick with the flu take care of yourself!" It's healthiest to try to minimize how much you worry in the meantime.
Here are eight ways to deal with health anxiety around the flu, according to experts.
1. Get The Flu Shot
You may have concerns about the effectiveness of the flu shot, but it's super important to get vaccinated nonetheless. You may not realize just how helpful it is, even if it doesn't protect against every strain of the flu.
"Hedge your bets, get the flu vaccine and go for the quadrivalent, which has four possible strains of the flu, versus the trivalent, which has only three," Dr. Singleton says. "Even if the vaccine does not have the prevalent strain, if you get the flu you will most likely have a milder case." If there's an option to be less sick if possible, you should go for it. "Partial protection lessens the symptoms and severity of the virus greatly reducing your risk for the more serious complications like pneumonia," health and safety investigator Caitlin Hoff, tells Bustle. Your future self will definitely thank you.
2. Break A Sweat
Breaking a sweat via exercise can help anxiety, yes, but sweating alone, regardless of how, actually helps your immune system, too. So however you choose to break a sweat, your chances of getting the flu, and your anxiety around it, might go down.
"Whether you sweat it out in a workout class, enjoy a good run or spend time in a infrared sauna, you (and your immune system) will feel the benefits," Amanda Carney, the director of health coaching at wellness platform Be Well tells Bustle. So, as long as you aren't already sick, head to the spa or the gym, and see your flu fears fly away.
3. Get Enough Sleep
You may already know that not getting enough sleep is bad for anxiety, but it's bad for your immune system too. So if you're looking to deal with flu stress and keep yourself as healthy as possible, you should be getting a good night's sleep throughout flu season.
"Don’t burn the candle at both ends," Dr. Singleton says. "Support your immune system with proper sleep." The connection between sleep and immune health is not to be undersold. So practice some sleep hygiene, and have a cozy flu season.
4. Practice Good Flu Season Hygiene
During flu season, you can help mitigate some of your anxiety by practicing habits that are proven to help prevent the spread of the flu. That means that every day you do these little things, you can remind yourself that you're actively making steps to stay healthy.
"The influenza virus spreads through droplets in the air whether from a person coughing or sneezing," Hoff explains. "If you’re concerned about getting sick, there are simple things you can do to protect yourself." Washing your hands regularly, covering your nose and mouth with your elbow when sneezing, keeping your hands off your face, and cleaning communal areas are all vital steps.
5. Eat Immune-Boosting Foods
While no food or supplements will protect you from the flu the way the vaccine does, it may help mitigate your anxiety to add some foods known to prevent the flu naturally into your diet during flu season.
"During the colder months, I make sure to incorporate immune boosting foods in my meals, which includes lots of garlic, onions, mushrooms, ginger, bone broth, fermented foods, cruciferous veggies and leafy greens," Carney says. Coupled with treating anxiety, and avoiding things that compromise your immune system, this habit can help you feel a little bit stressed about your health in the season of viruses.
6. Don't Make Assumptions
One way to keep anxiety down is to remember that if you get sick during flu season, it doesn't necessarily mean you have the flu. Finding ways to not jump to conclusions can keep you more at ease during these much-discussed months.
"Flu season coincides with a time of the year where respiratory illnesses run rampant," Hoff says. "It’s common for people who are sick to assume that they have the flu, but without clinical testing, there is no way to be sure. You may just have a common cold and will recover without any serious complications." Talking to a doctor is always a safe bet.
7. Find Ways To Cope With The Anxiety Itself
Even with all these practical steps, you still might feel like your anxiety is taking control. If you're dealing with this issue, coping with the anxiety itself might be a good idea.
"There is a lot you can do to help control anxiety," Dr. Jim LaValle, clinical pharmacist and board certified clinical nutritionist, tells Bustle. "[Try] deep breathing exercises at least two times a day for two to three minutes. A simple way to do that is called the box method. You breath in on a four count, hold a four count, exhale on four count and hold four count." Practicing this breathing technique, or other techniques for anxiety relief, can help you get through the day to day.
8. Acknowledge Your Fears
The final thing you can do to help deal with anxiety around the flu is to simply accept it, and let that be OK. "Acknowledge your fears," Cush says. "It’s OK to be afraid of getting the flu, but constant worrying puts a strain on your body and might make you more susceptible."
Saying "I'm scared of getting the flu" to yourself won't make you any more likely to get sick, and may actually help you feel some relief as you deal with the stress of flu season.
Whether you get sick or not is largely out of your control. But controlling some of your anxiety around the flu is not out of reach. By balancing flu prevention and anxiety management, you should be able to get through flu season with less stress.