• Andrew

Depression & the Flu have a lot in common!

Updated: Nov 25, 2019

Curled up in bed, aching and lethargic….with barely the energy to drag yourself to the couch and binge watch that TV series that was once your secret pleasure but now serves to fill in time. Food has no appeal, your fog filled head can’t seem to hold a coherent thought and the idea of anyone coming over (with best intentions!) only adds to your misery.

Depression can feel a lot like the flu…and that’s not surprising… because it is a lot like the flu!

The way we feel when we are physically sick is caused by the way our body responds to the stress challenge of the infection…and the first response is Inflammation and the release of proteins called Cytokines.

Cytokines are a group of proteins secreted by cells of the immune system that act as chemical messengers and their release into our blood system results in us feeling “off” - miserable, with poor energy, lack of appetite and all-over body aches.

It’s our body’s way of drawing our attention to the fact that “something’s not right” - temporarily forcing us to withdraw from the world while we rest and recover. (In evolutionary terms this makes sense as seeking to be away from others ensured the illness wasn’t spread!)

And here’s the thing - cytokines are released when we encounter all forms of stress - both physical and emotional.

Tests have shown* elevated cytokines in the blood of people suffering from; tissue injury (bruising), auto immune conditions like arthritis, allergies and infections, gut disorders, sleep deprivation, food imbalances…all sorts of challenges.

And just as effective in raising our cytokine levels is…chronic emotional stress

So…cytokines make us ache, lethargic and withdrawn…just like we are when… we’re depressed!

There are plenty of theories being explored regarding the various causes of elevated cytokines. Diet (excess processed sugars), sleep deprivation and low physical activity are common culprits; even the stressors of everyday life can boost these inflammatory markers.

The latest research* has us asking whether “depression” is in fact more a physical disorder than a “mental issue” - a natural physiological response to a range of stressors, physical as well as emotional.

The consistencies between physical and mental health responses are intriguing. For example, just as “rest and plenty of fluids” is good advice for people with the flu, so it is for people dealing with depression. Follow a healthy diet - low in processed sugars - and maintaining a consistent routine of good sleep and regular gentle exercise - is still some of the best advice for maintaining health - both physical and emotional.

It’s an area of intensive research that mental health professionals are monitoring closely - any suggestion that a more holistic treatment may be more effective than drugs will have massive potential impacts on our health system and the millions of depression sufferers.

In the meantime, taking care of your health—both physical and psychological—involves personal responsibility and collaboration with your health-care provider. Flu-like symptoms - Malaise, lethargy, social withdrawal, decreased appetite, and body aches - should always be taken seriously, so talk with your doctor. It could be a dose of the flu…. or it could be a depression

Both are treatable!

Need Help & Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about how you can resolve depression, anxiety and a wide range of negative thoughts, behaviours and physical symptoms - quickly, gently and permanently in as few as 3 sessions, visit

*Inflammatory Cytokines in Depression: Neurobiological Mechanisms and Therapeutic Implications