The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone who is 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccination, preferably by October. (There are some people who should consult their doctor before getting immunized.)
Flu vaccinations – coupled with frequent hand-washing – serve as frontline flu-fighting strategies. While these two tactics are well known, many people are unaware that several studies have concluded that there’s a strong connection between stress levels and susceptibility to respiratory infections, including the seasonal flu.
In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) assessed some 300 studies and found that long-term stress significantly suppresses the immune system. Other findings included:
- The longer the stress, the more negative change in the immune system.
- The most chronic stressors – stress that seems beyond a person’s control – resulted in the most global suppression of immunity, with nearly all measures of immune-system function dropping measurably.
- Immune functioning that is compromised by high levels of stress lowers the body’s ability to fend off flus and colds; and, once a person actually catches a cold or flu, stress also can worsen the symptoms.
Keep Stress in check
To sail through flu season with flying colors, your check list should include:
- Get flu shot by October.
- Wash hands frequently.
- Take steps to reduce stress.
To keep stress levels in check, the APA offers the following tips:
- Identify your sources of stress—The first step in managing stress is identifying what events or situations trigger stressful feelings. Make a list of situations that can be emotionally challenging for you, and learn to recognize them when they occur. Ultimately, the goal is to eliminate or reduce those situations that trigger a stress reaction.
- Learn your stress signals—Stress manifests itself in different ways. For some, stress impacts their ability to concentrate, while others feel angry or experience headaches and muscle tension. By being aware of your personal stress signals, you will be in a better position to combat stress.
- Trim your to-do list—Take an inventory of the items on your to-do list. Are there any entries that you can delete? Moving forward, think carefully before you take on another assignment or responsibility, and remember that you have the right to say no.
- Find healthy ways to manage stress—While activities such as smoking, drinking alcohol or overeating may temporarily relieve stress, these are unhealthy behaviors that can have dire consequences. Instead, consider healthy, stress-reducing activities such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or simply spending time with loved ones.
- Take care of yourself—Eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and engage in regular physical activity. Watch your intake of caffeine and other stimulants, as these can interfere with sleep and increase anxiety. It’s also important to take vacations and otherwise make time for yourself, even if that only equates to engaging in simple activities such as reading a book or listening to music.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by stress, you need to consult your health-care provider. Unmanaged stress not only can leave you more susceptible to seasonal flu, but it also can lead to serious medical problems.