With the cold and flu season taking over, Claire from Anxious Freedom is discussing the differences between anxiety and the flu, and what it means for your mental health.
Disclaimer: This article does not apply to those suffering from major depressive episodes which can be just as debilitating as the flu itself with exact symptoms. This is for those, like me, who suffer from phobias and generalized anxiety and panic disorder. This is also not medical advice, just a post coming from someone who has had trouble in the past finding the difference between anxiety and a cold or the flu. If you have a fever along with any of the flu symptoms, please seek medical attention.
Anxiety IS a sickness (even though it’s considered mental) and can have so many different effects on our body varying by each individual. With millions suffering from a mental health disorder, we know first-hand how it can manifest throughout our entire body (i.e. headaches, nausea, stomach aches, etc.) With cold and flu season running rampant, how do we distinguish between anxiety and the flu or a cold? We know that the two can be intertwined, and yes, anxiety does diminish our immune system, but we still want to stay on top of our health when it’s potentially not related to our mental state, but rather a viral infection caused by external factors.
For example, the other day I was full-blown sick. I had itchy red eyes, a runny nose, a stomach ache, the works. But being someone who has an anxiety disorder I just thought, “Oh I’m probably just anxious about (fill in the blank here).” This caused me to delay any sort of visit to the doctor and make my symptoms worse.
On the other side of the coin, those with Health Anxiety may visit their doctor too frequently due to symptoms manifesting in strange ways. I have also been in this boat before I was diagnosed. I went to the Emergency Room four times in the course of two years because I was convinced I had a stomach ulcer. Now I know that it’s my symptoms revealing themselves in physical ways and I’ve gone the completely opposite way to where I am now, which is never seeking medical attention. This is also not healthy.
With Anxiety Gone down with the flu, I thought it would be good to step in and help us all try to distinguish between the cold/ flu and anxiety. Through the years, this is what I’ve found and what I’m continuing to discover about anxiety and the flu.
Anxiety and The Flu
Anxiety can of course seem flu-like and can cause the following symptoms:
- Stomach aches
- Pains throughout your body
And of course there are some symptoms that aren’t so common. I won’t get too much into it but sometimes when I’m anxious I just need to take my shoes off and sit on the ground. THAT is easy to tell apart from the flu but the symptoms above can seem impossible to differentiate.
The following are flu symptoms and they’re nearly identical:
- Shortness of breath (also common in anxiety disorders)
- Loss of appetite
- Body aches
- Nasal Congestion
Spotting The Differences Between Anxiety and The Flu
The last two symptoms here are easy to identify as a cold or the flu. However, the first eight seem like me on my really anxious days. So here is what I was advised to do when I’m having a tough time telling the difference.
- Do a body scan
This is a common meditation practice but it works in this scenario as well. I close my eyes in a standing position and start at my head. Do I feel tension there? Is this the same headache I get when I’ve been staring at my computer too long or is it the one I get when my shoulders are tense? I answer these and keep going to my stomach. Is it hurting because I have 12 work meetings today and 100 things to do? Oh yes, I do have those things so that explains that. I do this all the way down to my toes. Usually, I can answer these and typically they are my anxiety. However, if you start at your head and the answer is, “It’s so stopped up I feel like it’s a balloon about to pop,” that may be when it’s time to seek medical attention.
- Look around to see if anyone around you is down with the flu
Let me begin by saying that just because someone else contracted the flu, doesn’t mean you will. I know it can be a huge trigger for those with health anxiety and I’ve been there. However, if you’ve done a body scan, and you’re seeing symptoms compatible with the flu AND your significant other or child is also down for the count, it’s safe to say that you could have been infected.
- Treat your anxiety symptoms
If your self body scan came back labeled “anxious” and you think you’re in the clear, work on treating your anxious day. After a day where my physical body is suffering because of my mental illness, it’s time for self-care. When I get home, I have tea, a book, and a bath and start to feel brand new. This will look different across the board but you know what works best for you and your symptoms! If you’re still feeling crummy after completing a routine that typically abates some of your anxiety symptoms, it may be time to seek medical help.
- Go to your doctor
If you’ve done everything you can to look for difference in a viral infection vs. mental health, and you still feel sick, please go to the doctor! I’ve been in a situation where I did go to the doctor feeling the worst I’ve ever felt and they told me that nothing was wrong with me. Have you been there? That’s the worst that can happen but at least you know that it’s not the flu and you know that it’s anxiety. The tricky part is for those who haven’t been diagnosed because typically, doctors won’t even bring up mental health.
The major symptoms that divide anxiety and the flu are a fever, sore throat and cough. If you are experiencing these, I would seek medical attention before following any of these tips to see if it’s anxiety first. It may be almost March, but the flu is still on a rampage. Be safe out there, sanitize, and indulge in self-care a little extra this season. Good luck!
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