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Flu-like symptoms; Feeling sick like you have the flu and Anxiety

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 3, 2019

Why anxiety can cause flu like symptoms, like you have the flu:

Flu like symptoms and anxiety description:

Many people describe this symptom as feeling flu-like or “sick” even though they aren’t. Others describe it as feeling ill, or that there is something “wrong” because they just don’t feel right.

Some people say that while they can’t put their finger on it, they feel sick, ill.

These flu like symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel flu like symptoms once in a while and not that often, feel them off and on, or feel them all the time.

These flu like symptoms may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

These flu like symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

These flu like symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

These flu like symptoms can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Why can anxiety cause flu like symptoms?

There are many reasons why anxiety can cause flu like symptoms. Three of the most common include:

1. Anxiety activates the stress response, and the changes the stress response brings about can mimic flu like symptoms.
Behaving in an apprehensive manner (worried, fretful, fearful) causes the body to produce the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

Many of the changes the stress response brings about can cause flu like symptoms, such as muscle tension that can cause aches and pains, increased respiration that can cause sweating, blood flow changes that can cause dizziness, heightened nervous system activity that can cause trembling and weakness, and so on.

All of these changes, while important for survival, can cause flu like symptoms.

For more information about the many changes and their sensations the stress response brings about, see Chapter 3 in the Recovery Support area of our website.

2. Persistently elevated stress taxes the body’s resources harder than normal.
Being anxious stresses the body. Stress taxes the body’s resources harder than normal. Persistently elevated stress, such as that caused by overly apprehensive behavior, can cause the body to become rundown and feel poorly. Experiencing flu-like symptoms or feeling sick is a common consequence of persistently elevated stress, such as that caused by stress-response hyperstimulation.

3. Stress suppresses the body’s immune system making it more vulnerable to biological intruders.
Stress also suppresses the body’s immune system making it more difficult for the body to ward off biological intruders, such as flu bugs (viruses) and infection (bacteria). As long as stress remains elevated, the body can struggle with health issues. These health issues can cause flu like symptoms.

Persistently elevated stress hampers the body’s ability to keep itself healthy. Therefore persistently elevated stress can cause persistent symptoms, including feeling flu-like or ill.

How to get rid of anxiety caused flu like symptoms?

When this feeling is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this feeling should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When this feeling is caused by persistently elevated stress, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where this symptom is eliminated.

Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered, this flu like symptoms feeling will completely subside. Therefore, it needn’t be a cause for concern.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about these flu like symptoms. Again, when your body has recovered from the stress response and/or its overly stressed state, these flu like symptoms will completely disappear.

Play the clip below for Jim Folk's commentary about why anxiety can cause flu like symptoms. Jim Folk is the president of anxietycentre.com.

Experiencing flu like symptoms is a common indication of elevated stress, including the stress anxiety can cause. Jim Folk experienced many episodes of flu like symptoms during his 12 year struggle with anxiety disorder.

For a more detailed explanation about all anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Anxiety attacks can be powerful and overwhelming experiences. But there is help available. We encourage you to explore our website for a comprehensive understanding of anxiety, anxiety attacks, disorders, and their signs and symptoms.

Also, for more information about our Anxiety Counseling option; our Available Anxiety Therapists; to Book An Appointment with one of our anxiety therapists; information about Anxiety Attacks, Symptoms, and Treatment options; the signs and symptoms of panic attacks disorder; anxiety Recovery Support area; information about Anxiety; and our Anxiety 101 section; or click on the appropriate link or graphic below:

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Return to our section that explains the hundreds of anxiety signs and symptoms, including trembling, numbness, tingling, shortness or breath, and racing heart, and so on.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including flu like symptoms.