Sometimes you can feel so stressed that you start to feel under the weather, and it can be difficult to tell whether you are unwell or if your body is just reacting to stress.
For many people, being unwell can cause more stress, as they worry about being able to cope with everything they have to do. It can be a vicious cycle!
Can stress cause flu-like symptoms? In short, yes – stress and anxiety can cause flu-like symptoms, so it’s essential to recognize the signs that your body is reacting to stress rather than an infection.
Flu-like Symptoms Caused by Stress
Many common symptoms of an anxiety disorder and stress can mimic the symptoms of the flu. There are psychological and physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, with people feeling them at varying intensities.
The physical symptoms of stress that can feel like the flu include:
- Aches and pains
- Stomach upset
- Muscle tension
The psychological symptoms of stress that can make you feel like you have the flu include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep problems
If you are suffering from flu-like symptoms, it is vital to see a doctor to rule out any other possible causes. However, if your doctor does confirm that your symptoms are caused by chronic stress or anxiety, there are several things you can do to help reduce your stress and anxiety and, in turn, reduce your feeling of being unwell.
The difference between acute stress and chronic stress
It is important to understand the difference between acute and chronic stress, as this can help you identify whether your symptoms are being caused by stress.
Acute stress is a normal response to a stressful situation and usually goes away once the stressful event has passed. Feeling stressed when you have a lot to do or are facing a challenging situation is perfectly natural.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is ongoing and usually goes hand-in-hand with an anxiety disorder. Chronic stress is when the stressor (the thing that is causing the stress) is constant, and there is no respite. This can have a serious impact on your physical and mental health.
Why Can Anxiety and Chronic Stress Cause Flu-like Symptoms?
Our body’s stress response is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This innate survival mechanism evolved to help us respond quickly to potentially dangerous situations.
When we perceive a threat, our body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase our heart rate and raise our blood pressure. They also divert blood away from our gut and towards our muscles in preparation for physical activity.
This ‘fight-or-flight’ response is helpful in short bursts, but if we are constantly feeling stressed or anxious, our body remains highly alert. This can lead to many physical and mental health problems, including flu-like symptoms.
Chronic stress and anxiety symptoms are generally found across various mental and physical health conditions, so it can be difficult to tell if they cause your symptoms or if you have another health condition.
Can Anxiety Weaken Your Immune System?
Too much stress and anxiety can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illness. This is because when our body is in a constant state of stress response, it produces fewer infection-fighting cells and antibodies.
If you come into contact with a virus, you will likely develop the illness. Additionally, the symptoms of anxiety and stress can make it challenging to get a good night’s sleep, weakening your immune system.
Those with a weaker immune system are more susceptible to sicknesses like the common cold, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and even severe conditions such as heart disease.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that chronic stress and anxiety can directly cause illnesses like the flu. However, stress and anxiety can worsen your symptoms if you are already unwell.
For example, if you have a cold, stress and anxiety can make your symptoms more severe and make you feel more tired. Additionally, if you have a condition like IBS, stress and anxiety can trigger your symptoms.
How to Tell the Difference Between Stress Symptoms and Flu Symptoms
There are several key ways to tell the difference between stress and flu symptoms.
Firstly, flu symptoms tend to come on suddenly, whereas stress symptoms tend to develop over time. Secondly, flu symptoms usually last for a week or two and then go away, whereas stress symptoms can last for months or even years.
Thirdly, flu symptoms are generally more severe than stress symptoms. For example, you may have a fever or muscle tension with the flu but not with stress. Finally, flu symptoms tend to resolve once the illness has passed, but stress symptoms may persist even after the stressful event has ended.
If you are unsure whether your symptoms are due to stress or the flu, you must see your doctor for a diagnosis. This is especially important if your symptoms are severe or last for more than a week or two.
Your doctor will be able to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms and give you the best treatment plan for your particular situation.
Therapy For Your Anxiety Disorder
If you feel you are suffering from chronic stress and anxiety that is becoming unmanageable, it is crucial to seek professional help.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can be particularly effective for those with anxiety disorders. CBT focuses on helping you identify and change the negative thoughts and beliefs causing your anxiety.
There are many different therapy methods, whether you are a young adult, an adult or a senior citizen. Therapy is much more accessible today than in the past, and many different types of therapy exist.
Online therapy is becoming increasingly popular, as it is more convenient and often more affordable than traditional face-to-face therapy.
If you are considering online therapy, you can get 15% off from BetterHelp by clicking this link.
Summarizing: Can Stress Cause Flu-like Symptoms? What’s the Difference?
While stress and anxiety don’t lead to flu, the symptoms can mimic those of the flu.
Flu symptoms tend to come on suddenly and be more severe than stress symptoms, which develop over time. Additionally, flu symptoms usually only last for a week or two, whereas stress symptoms can last for months or even years if you have an anxiety disorder.
Many therapies are available to treat anxiety disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy and online therapy. If you are struggling to manage your stress and anxiety, it is essential to seek professional help.