If you’re dealing with mental health concerns, the last thing you want is to get physically sick too. Here are ways to help avoid the flu.
Getting sick is an unpleasant but expected part of life. A couple months ago, I came down with the flu, despite having gotten a flu shot. It was frustrating to say the least. In addition to the physical illness, my mental health was affected, which made being sick even worse.
According to Dr. Steven Schlozman of the Clay Center for Healthy Young Minds, physical illness, such as the flu, can adversely affect our emotional health. This can be bad news for those of us who already have preexisting conditions, such as bipolar, depression or anxiety. According to Schlozman, “…pre-existing depression, anxiety and other psychiatric syndromes can make it very difficult to recover readily from a bout of the flu.”
This was certainly the case for me. My flu dragged out for about two weeks, and during that time I was irritable and depressed. Towards the end of my recovery, I experienced what felt like a full-blown depressive episode. During this period of time I had a teary session with my therapist, and decided to admit myself to the hospital for suicidal ideation. It was an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
Here’s how I’m hoping to avoid the flu in the future:
Get my flu shot. Admittedly, it didn’t work this year, but the CDC highly recommends annual shots. It estimates that getting the vaccine reduces your risk of illness by 40 to 60 percent.
Eat a healthy diet, including flu-fighting foods. Foods that contain vitamin C (kiwi, cantaloupe, mango), zinc (almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds) and probiotics (plain yogurt, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, pickles) help you fight the effects of flu. Other foods help by providing antiviral properties (mushrooms) or increasing the activity of natural killer cells (garlic and onions). And don’t forget to stay hydrated!
Exercise regularly. I believe exercise helps strengthen my immune system and protect illness. At Chosun University in Gwangju, South Korea, scientists determined that regular exercise helps produce a healthy inflammation response, by regularly stressing your body in small, manageable ways. This makes your body more able to respond to the stressors of a virus, like the flu.
Even if I do come down with the flu (which I’m hoping I don’t), I will be more observant of my moods. If it means a call to my psychiatrist for a medication adjustment or an extra therapy session when I’m feeling slightly better, then so be it. Physical health and mental health go hand. Next time I will be more careful when I get sick. Lesson learned.
Lisa Acuña is an Orlando-based librarian, and aspiring writer and photographer. She loves the resources available at bphope.com and reads the website daily. She has Bipolar Disorder Type II, and is always looking for ways to best manage her Bipolar. In her free time she enjoys exercise and reading.
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