Science Says There's A Trick To Making Sure Your Flu Shot Actually Works


Ah, autumn: the whimsical season. With all the hype surrounding the return of pumpkin spice, knee-high boots, and oversized flannels, we tend to forget that the coziest time of year can also be the stuffiest. That's right, friends -- along with PSL season, September kicks off flu season as well, and the age-old question rolls around once again: Do flu shots actually work? Well, new research suggests when it comes to penciling in an appointment for your flu shot, timing really is everything.

On that note, if you haven't scheduled your flu shot yet, you might want to hold off on setting a date. According to a study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, the best time to get vaccinated is when you're in a good mood. So, instead of calling and making an appointment, it might be more beneficial to take advantage of pharmacies that take walk-ins.

Yahoo reports that researchers came to this conclusion by observing 138 participants over a six-week period. Patients were questioned about their moods, physical activity, diet, and sleep patterns to find a direct link between psychological and physical behaviors and their body's response to the vaccine. Researchers also took into account how many flu antibodies each person developed at four and 16 weeks after receiving the shot. The results showed that those leading a happier, more positive lifestyle, and who had a more positive outlook on the day of vaccination, had higher levels of influenza antibodies.

This is probably because your mood can affect your immune system.

The less stress you endure, the lighter you tend to feel, right? Well, when stress isn't an issue, it's not only a load off your mind, but your immune system, too.

Social stressors -- like an argument with a group of friends or self-inflicted pressure to succeed at work -- can often go from zero to 100 real quick, transforming internal stress to full-fledged physical discomfort, including things like stomach cramping, acne, hives, and even asthma attacks. It's unclear why this occurs; all we really know is that it does.

According to Psych Central, an overactive immune system is at a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases. Psychotherapist Jane Collingwood explained,

The brain appears to have a direct effect on stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which have wide-ranging effects on the nervous and immune systems. In the short term, they benefit us with heightened awareness and increased energy, but when prolonged, the effects are less helpful. They lead to a profound change in the immune system, making us more likely to pick up a bug.

In short, the better you feel mentally, the better your body will function physically.

And that's exactly why you should try to stay calm and positive when you get your flu shot.

If you're the type of person who, when you sit down in a doctor's office to get a flu shot (or when any kind of needle is involved), wiggles, fidgets, and jumps at the sound of the nurse calling your name, chances are it's going to be a rough visit, to say the least.

And, trust me, I sympathize. Having a needle prick your skin isn't the ideal way to start your morning or end a long day at work. But the number one thing to remember when you're going for any kind of vaccination is that it's quick, mostly painless, and will allow you to go about your merry way this season so you can enjoy all the fall foliage and festivities without having to stuff tissues in your bag wherever you go.

But, just in case forcing yourself to think happy thoughts won't do the trick, try not to think about the process at all. Instead, look away from the needle and strike up a conversation with your nurse. Ask about her day, where she went to school, or avoid all medical-related topics by commenting on her shoes or hairstyle. Take deep breaths or even try humming your favorite song.

Whatever you can do to get yourself in just a slightly better mood, do it.

However, mood isn't the only way to make your flu shot more effective.

For those of you furiously shaking your head at the entirety of this article, that's fair. Some people really are straight-up terrified of needles, and no amount of positive vibes can change that fact when a needle is headed straight toward your arm. But the good news is, if you can't endure your flu shot with a smile and a genuinely positive attitude, you're not doomed.

Back in 2013, The New York Times reported that studies showed that working on your fitness can improve the effectiveness of a flu shot. For example, in a 2009 experiment, adults who were otherwise sedentary started implementing more aerobic exercises like walking into their daily routines, and over the course of 10 months, they "displayed higher average influenza antibody counts 20 weeks after a flu vaccine."

To further prove this idea, Iowa State University researchers had college students jog at a moderate pace or bike 15 minutes after receiving their first flu shot. It turns out that, when compared to people who were asked to sit quietly for 90 minutes post-vaccine, active volunteers had nearly double the antibody response.

TBH, I haven't decided if the fact that our individual bodies and behaviors can determine whether or not the flu shot is effective is cool or terrifying, but all I know is we have two options here: get happy or get active.

Either way, it's worth the effort if you want to stay healthy this fall.