H1N1 Flu: So what can I take to calm my nerves?
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
Every day in my clinical practice, patients (especially parents) ask me the question: “I’m worried about H1N1, what can I do for myself and my kids?”. Within the same breath, they ask: “and what can I take for my nerves?”
The anxiety being created by H1N1 is enormous. We have daily news releases on the latest deaths in Canada – two apparently healthy young people, aged 10 and 13, died in Ontario two weeks ago. Since these kids represented sub-populations that are normally less affected by the flu, their deaths created a situation of near hysteria among Canadian citizen.
Hospitals are no longer taking nasal swabs to provide definitive H1N1 diagnosis. No one knows who has it and everyone who has the classic symptoms are said to have H1N1. We have gone as far as to say that someone died from the H1N1 without verified laboratory identification – as was the case in a 2-month old infant who died last week in Ontario.
It’s hard not to be affected by what we hear. Whispers of vaccine shortage, line-ups several hours long for vaccinations, and people fighting at our local hospital because ‘someone was butting in line’ only make matters worse.
No doubt, the H1N1 is a virus to be reckoned with. After spending a night taking care of a child with a sky rocketing fever and a dry, deep barking cough, I know how thoughts of uncertainty start playing in the mind. It is only by the next morning when the child is eating and playing that one can take a deep breath.
Clearly the H1N1 virus is something we should take seriously, but is it serving us to generate fear and anxiety within our families and communities?
It is well known that stress, fear and anxiety contribute to a wear and tear effect on the body. It runs us down and leads to declined immunity…exactly what we’re trying to avoid in the first place. In this column, let’s adopt strategies in our daily lives that help us to relax and that provides us with the confidence and the strength that is needed to persevere stress-free during these uncertain times.
Adopt an action plan.
My last two month’s columns provided an informative discussion on the pros and cons of flu vaccinations and was dedicated to optimizing our immune system to prepare our body against all virus and bacteria, including the H1N1 virus. It provided a new action plan for all Canadians irrespective of ones decision to proceed with the flu and/or H1N1 vaccines.
I would encourage that you visit my website for information about preparing your immune system with the aim that you get sick less often and to prevent any complications if you do get sick. As always, a combination of naturopathic approaches tailored to each individual provide the best clinical results.
Colds and the flu have and always will be an integral part of our Canadian chilly seasons. To expect that we can keep our kids and ourselves sick-free can place unreasonable pressure on ourselves. What we can do is work towards feeling healthier and stronger, such that our immunity will be more robust in the event that we do get sick. Another good health goal for this year is to get sick a little less often than we have in previous years.
Appreciate that fever is your greatest defense.
Supporting and managing fever during an acute infection offers a time-tested way of improving the outcome of the illness. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen (main ingredients in over-the counter medications such as Advil or Tylenol) are widely used for managing fevers and easing pain or discomfort during infections. There is little doubt that they are helpful in providing more comfort during an illness. But do such strategies that suppress fever actually help us fight the infection? Does it help us get over the illness faster?
Medical research evaluating the usefulness of a fever has discovered that fever helps decrease the ability of viruses and bacteria to replicate while at the same time ramping up our own immune cells to combat the infection. As a naturopathic doctor and as a parent, I often observe that children recover quicker from an infection if they can mount a robust fever.
No doubt, a fever doesn’t initially provide good news. It tells us that someone is dealing with an infection. What now? What knowledge do we need to know about fevers to decrease our fears? First, rule out warning signs that will help you determine whether the infection is too serious to handle with home care. Difficulty breathing (as with H1N1 infections) or neck stiffness (as in meningitis) are examples that emergency care is required. Get familiar with these and other warning signs and symptoms.
Is the actual temperature the most important criteria? Temperature measurements do provide clues to the type of infection. Bacterial infections for example have a tendency to produce higher fevers. But the actual temperature is not as important as other parameters in assessing how well or unwell a sick person is. For example, a child may have a fever of 104F (40C) and still be alert, talking and drinking water while other child may have a fever of 101F (38C) and show all the life threatening signs. A child who is refusing to drink (therefore becoming dehydrated), is unresponsive and very lethargic is a medical emergency.
I would encourage you to read more about fevers. Start off by doing a google search for the article “Fever in Children – A Blessing in Disguise” written by Dr. Linda White (MD) and Sunny Mavor. It provides a great overview and is an excellent start in learning more about fever and how to use it to your advantage.
Use your breath to your advantage.
Strengthen your lungs, improve your health status and decrease stress by breathing deeper throughout the day. This doesn’t mean you need to assume a yogi position or learn specific breathing techniques (although these can be valuable too!). Try to do at least 100 breaths each day, preferably outside. Simply inhale deeply through the nose to fill your abdomen and chest, and exhale slowly. Try to exhale as long as you can before inhaling again. Breathing may be done many times throughout the day and is especially effective before eating and when you become aware of feeling anxious or stressed.
Support your nerves.
Stress can slowly weaken the body and the immune system. The use of specific vitamins or minerals in medicinal doses (B vitamins for example) and individualized herbal or homeopathic combinations provides good adjunctive treatments for stress.
Adopt other relaxation techniques.
Addressing the root cause of the stress and learning adaptation techniques that suit you is paramount. For some it’s yoga or skiing, while others find socializing the best way to decompress. Choose whatever way works best for you!
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday November 11th, 2009 in Times & Transcript.
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