With organizations like the CDC (1) and other infectious disease experts (2) predicting that this year’s flu season may be more severe, what are some lifestyle tips to prevent and treat the flu?
First, stay calm. The level of anxiety that has occurred in our society over the last 1-2 years among some individuals has caused great harm. For example, chronic anxiety and mental distress can suppress the immune system (3). However, anxiety about influenza is nothing new. In 2011, when there was anticipation about the H1N1 swine flu, the American Psychological Association wrote an article about anxiety and the swine flu (4). There were a few important points from the article I wish to highlight:
(a) Keep things in perspective realizing that predictions from government and other authority figures usually are aimed at worst case scenarios.
(b) Get the facts to accurately determine risk rather than basing decisions on rumors, hearsay or one-sided approaches.
(c) Maintain a hopeful outlook knowing there are things that can be done to minimize risk and to spend your time focused on positive and uplifting themes and ignore those with sensationalized messages.
(d) Stay healthy by optimizing your lifestyle behaviors.
(e) Build resilience. Work toward the idea of thriving under adversity. Who knows what good might come out of it and what improvements in your own life skills, character, or resilience might occur.
On top of staying calm, active work to improve your general health and well-being plays a big role in the flu. Similar to COVID-19 and other viral respiratory infections, degrees of illness from influenza are strongly affected by your personal state of health. Those who get a good night’s sleep, get doses of moderate to vigorous physical activity at least 3 times per week, and eat a whole plant-based diet that is low in processed ingredients and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and other nutrients, will typically have shorter and less severe symptoms.
Preventing the flu is also greatly improved by optimizing your access to fresh, circulating air. Influenza is spread via surfaces but especially it is spread through the air. Improving circulation in any room you are in with others will lower transmission rates. Options include running fans or air filters, opening windows and doors, as well as running an HVAC system while people are together. As temperatures allow, moving outside dramatically reduces the risk of transmission.
Treating the flu. If you become sick, aggressively hydrate, get extra sleep, eat lightly, and reduce your obligations to allow for more rest. Apply heat to your throat and chest once or twice a day for 20 minutes. Take a hot shower or bath daily. Maintain access to fresh air. I recommend elderberry extract 1 tablespoon three times per day as it works to shorten the course. If you have young children, are over 65 years of age, have chronic medical conditions, or feel you are particularly at risk of influenza, please call “your provider” to discuss further options to make sure you do as well as you can.
May your health prosper,
Yin Schaff, Health Ministries Coordinator
Used by permission Dr. Greg Steinke – internal medicine
(1) Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2021-2022 Season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD). November 3, 2021. (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2021-2022.htm#Flu-Activity)
(2) Michelle Crouch, What Will This Year’s Flu Season Look Like? AARP, September 10, 2021. (https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2021/seasonal-flu-predictions.html).
(3) Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(4):601-630. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.130.4.601.
(4) Managing your anxiety about H1N1 flu (swine flu). 2011. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/h1n1-flu