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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

What You Need to Know about H1N1 and Depression

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 28th 2009

swineYes, it's flu season and people are experiencing it. I had it and I know a number of people who have had it too. I'm not sure if it's the swine flu or another flu as the symptoms are so similar, but eventually it has passed. However, one similarity that we want to be aware of is symptoms of the flu and how that could ignite a fall into depression.

Here's the deal, if you've experienced depression, you know that it's a traumatic event. Whenever a trauma occurs we develop a conditioned reaction in our minds (and our brains) that tries to avoid these feelings at all costs. Sometimes the brain mistakes the flu or a cold for depressive symptoms and goes into a reactionary mode that ends up pouring kerosene on the fire and because of this, we manifest our own reality of depression.

Let's break it down:

  • Physical sensations - When depressed, these could be feelings of tiredness, heaviness, achiness or maybe tension in certain areas of the body. When we look at physical symptoms of the flu, these seem to also be on that list. So because of the trauma of past depressive episode, the mind is hypervigilant and on the look out to anticipate any signs that depression is coming.

    When we get a cold or are run down, the mind kicks into gear automatic negative thoughts or maybe catastrophizing.  

  • Thoughts -  Either these automatic negative thoughts that are connected to depression arise such as negative self judgment or the what if's game of anxiety arises, "oh no, what if I'm getting depressed?"  This further exacerbates the physical symptoms and brings on uncomfortable emotions.

  • Emotions - Now that the negative thoughts have been triggered, we may begin to notice feelings of shame or unworthiness coming on. Or maybe we notice fear and anxiety in response to the catastrophizing and impending dark cloud of depression lurking overhead.

  • Behavior - When sick we already tend to isolate and not connect with people. This is similar of depression further validating the idea that we're depressed.

In order to break out of this cycle we have to be aware of it and allow the thought that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." In other words, maybe we're just sick and depression isn't inevitable.

With this awareness we can break the cycle of depressive auto-pilot and just allow ourselves to be sick and care for ourselves in order to get better.

During this flu season remember, what's restorative is rest, chicken soup, and kindness. With mindful awareness, we can change our relationship to ourselves from one of fear and anxiousness to that of nurturing, kindness, and support.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interaction here provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

H1N1 - Dawn - May 4th 2011

My son caught H1N1 when he was 7 months old.  His fever was 105.00 for about 1 week.  Dr.s could not treat him right away, due to the guidelines given by the CDC at the time.  However, with in a couple days they decided to treat him with Tamiflu.  Before my son caught this flu bug, he was a quiet child loved playing.  After the flu, everything about him changed.  He began having tantrums for no apparent reason.  He cried all the time.  He no longer could tolerate noise.  He could no longer handle swinging, playing in sand, or anything that had texture.  He has now been diagnosed with Sensory defensiveness.  None of his symptoms came about till he caught the H1N1 virus.  I think his high fever that he endured during that time, is a big contributing factor to what he has now.  He is in treatment, and we are taking every step possible to help cope with the world around him.  This is a very frightening experience for us.  More so for him, then anyone else.  Does anyone else have this kind of experences due to the flu?

been a year and depression is still there - - Oct 19th 2010

Had H1N1 ... got better ... looked at life differently ... anxiety ... depression ... work suffering... social life suffering ... wife hung in there tried to help ... left wife last night ... and the downward spiral continues

Since the flu - magnet564 - Dec 23rd 2009

I caught the H1N1 about 3 weeks ago.  I had to stay out of work for a week due to the workplace policy. I am working now but I've noticed several changes to my personaility and ability to function.

-Complete loss of appetite/ Lost maybe 7 pounds in two weeks.




-Boughts of crying for no apparent reason

Before I caught the virus I was doing okay.  Does anyone have a similiar experience.  Is it related to the virus? Or is it depression? 


Flu\depression connection - Carol M. Mak - Dec 8th 2009

That's funny, the article is opposite of what I experience.  I have depression, take med. for it, and also have anxiety...but when I get sick, I stay in bed and take care of myself and for that - I feel better.  I'm happier in my mind that it really is a physical illness and not a mental "appearance" of an illness and thusly, I have a real valid reason to stay in bed and feel cozy.  Not appear to be "lazy"...or "just depressed"...that is seen in a negative way in our present society.  . . that is, in the minds of people who have not experienced real bone fide depression.  That's how it is on my side of the window glass!

panic attacks ever since H1N1 - Lilith - Nov 22nd 2009

I have this currently. I just recovered from H1N1 and have been having massive panic attacks ever since. I've been taking everything personally and just can't be motivated to care. It's a problem because it's effecting my eatting and sleeping. Has anyone experienced this, and how have you shook it?

I Guess it's just the flu - Rose Minshall - Nov 10th 2009

I really thought I was getting depressed, but it makes so much sense. I tend to panic when I get these feelings, so hopefully in few days I will start to bounce back. I have never had a flu hang on for so long.

OH so right - - Oct 30th 2009

This is so right!  I have just gotten over the flu and have been questioning myself ever sense.  First is was questioning if it was really even the flu at all or just me again.  Then guilt, then depression all of the things you mentioned.  What you didnt say or I didnt catch was how to prevent it

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