If you want to have the best fighting chance at the flu, it might help to get your shot when you’re feeling especially jolly.
A new study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity shows that flu immunizations are more likely to be effective if you’re in a good mood. Researchers found that positive mood was associated with higher levels of the influenza antibody in a person’s system ― in other words, more protection from the illness ― at both four and 16 weeks after the vaccination.
The study authors measured the positive and negative moods, diet, exercise and sleep habits of 138 adults ages 65 to 85. Each person was tracked three times a week over a six-week period.
Of all the metrics the researchers looked at, positive mood was the biggest predictor of how well the shot worked. For those participants, being happy on the day of the vaccination and being happy over time was associated with higher levels of the antibody.
There are a few caveats about this study. It used a small sample size, for one thing, and it only measured the effect in older adults. There’s nothing to indicate whether the same outcome would occur in younger people.
The researchers also gave the patients the same flu shot they received the year before, and it’s possible the participants’ immune systems already had some level of protection against that version of the flu before they even got the vaccine for this study. Since there are multiple strains of the illness, it’s unclear if a positive mood would have a better or worse outcome on different versions of the shot ― or, indeed, any outcome at all.
In short, more research needs to be done to determine whether being happy truly has an effect on flu shot efficacy.
However, there is something to be said for a good mental outlook. The study’s results may simply indicate the effects of a positive mood on a person’s immune system ― particularly for populations like the elderly who often have weaker immunity and more difficulty getting vaccines to work for them.
“We have known for many years that a number of psychological and behavioral factors such as stress, physical activity and diet influence how well the immune system works and these factors have also been shown to influence how well vaccines protect against disease,” study author Kavita Vedhara, a professor from the University of Nottingham, said in a statement.
Now, this is great if you’re a generally calm person and you don’t have, say, a fear of needles. But what if ― for whatever crazy reason ― going to the doctor and getting a shot doesn’t just naturally put you in a sunny mood?
Below are a few physician-backed tips for keeping calm before and after the process:
Try some deep breathing exercises.
This can help put your body and mind in a calmer state, according to Dr. Albert Ahn, a clinical instructor of internal medicine at NYU Langone Health. “This will help you not tense up right before,” Ahn told HuffPost. Inhale and exhale slowly a few times when you’re going into the examining room.
Don’t look while the doctor is administering the vaccine.
“A lot of people get anxious about the needle,” Ahn said. “Take your attention away from the needle stick and find something else in the room to focus on.”
This goes for kids, as well. The most important thing is to engage the patient and keep their mind distracted, according to Dr. Jill Creighton, an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at Stony Brook University. She recommends singing to young ones and allowing older teens to scroll on their phone with their free hand, as long as their arms stay relaxed.
Eat well and stay hydrated.
You’re less likely to experience less averse effects from the shot if you’re well-nourished, Ahn says. That means eating a good meal beforehand and making sure you drink plenty of water.
Go on a day when you don’t have much happening.
It’s easier to feel more relaxed when your schedule isn’t busy, Ahn explains. Try going to get your shot on a Friday afternoon, so you’ll have some downtime to unwind after.
Get a loved one to accompany you if you can. If you’re a parent with an anxious child, go in with them. “Sometimes you just need that physical reminder of comfort,” Creighton said.
Talk to your health care provider about your concerns.
Stress around shots is a very common issue. Talk to your physician when you arrive about your options to help you stay relaxed while getting the vaccine, and consider telling them what behaviors make you anxious. “For example, a lot of people don’t like it when [the doctor or nurse] counts down” before giving the shot, Ahn said.
You’re now ready to conquer flu season.