If this ongoing battle against Corona, Sars-CoV-2, Covid-19, delta, omicron, and on and on has you feeling a bit like you’re on Gilligan’s Island…you’re not alone.
What we expected could possibly be nothing more than a three hour tour has seemingly stranded many of us on this island. But, when you feel trapped, stranded, and hopeless to escape you can often be overcome with worry or fear regarding your fate.
And unfortunately, that’s a big problem on Corona Island.
Okay…all metaphors aside…here’s the thing:
When we first learned of Covid, the fear we felt regarding the virus was somewhat warranted as we certainly didn’t know what to expect. Our fear was regarding the unknown.
But, both then, and certainly now, the fears surrounding this virus aren’t good…for anyone.
With more variants surfacing all the time, and this will continue to happen in true viral behavior fashion, fear and anxiety is something worth addressing!
Fear is a mortal enemy of the immune system. And, if you’re going to effectively fight Captain Corona, you need your defense system (immune system) to be optimally working!
So, let’s take a look at what happens when these two foes go head to head and see how fear and anxiety surrounding this virus can actually make you more susceptible to infection.
Fear And The Immune System
Your immune system is essentially your own internal military, working to defend your body against invading pathogens.
The problem with fear is, while not a pathogen, it can be viewed as a threat by your immune system as well.
Fear signals the need for a response by your nervous system. It causes the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and can also affect your heart rate and blood pressure.
Living in a constant or ongoing state of fear or anxiety means your body has to deal with these internal effects chronically.
Another method that our body has for dealing with fear involves shutting off ‘non-essentials’ like the digestive system in the face of dealing with what your body perceives as an immediate threat (fear).
Your immune system…well, nearly 70% of it is housed within your digestive tract!
Doing the math?
Fear, anxiety, and stress are nearly synonymous when it comes to their effects on your immune system.
Studies have shown that even the simple stress that students are subjected to near the end of a semester can weaken their immune responses.
One particular study found that those students experiencing the stress of taking exams “had fewer natural killer cells, which fight tumors and viral infections. They almost stopped producing immunity-boosting gamma interferon and infection-fighting T-cells responded only weakly to test-tube stimulation.”
Subsequent studies found that stress (fear and anxiety qualify as well here) experienced for any length of time (days, months, years) caused all aspects of immunity to diminish.
Essentially, when your body experiences fear or anxiety, the boxing gloves come out.
The problem with this?
If your body is distracted, wearing or using those boxing gloves to fight fear, then it’s not able to fully extend itself to fight off viral infection (such as corona).
And, in this state, should you become infected with this virus, your body isn’t in tip-top shape to effectively, and quickly, fight off the virus.
If your immune system is fighting fear/anxiety and covid, it’s kind of like you’re spreading yourself (or your immune system) too thin.
As that saying suggests, if your immune system is in fight or flight mode, expending itself fighting your fears, then it doesn’t have the normal and needed defenses at its disposal to also present a full-blown assault on the virus.
Fear Is A Liar
We’ll get to some practical and effective ways that you can reduce fear and anxiety in a moment, but as we’re discussing fear of Corona specifically, it’s worth taking a look at the facts.
Why look at stats in an article about the role of fear on the immune system?
Well, we fear what we don’t know; therefore, knowledge is an effective tool to fight fear.
So, let’s drop some knowledge regarding this thing that so many fear:
What do we know about the coronavirus?
- The coronavirus belongs to a large family of viruses, the most familiar of which is the common cold.
- The coronavirus most people are familiar with of late, was identified as SARS-CoV-2 and this caused a respiratory illness referred to as Covid-19.
- This particular coronavirus can be contagious, just like most in the family of coronaviruses.
- There are effective treatments available for Covid-19 should you become infected and find yourself actually needing medical treatment.
Now, some of you may read the above listed information and feel it was listed in a very “matter of fact” manner.
But, emotions aside, and that’s the point here, we effectively dispel fear and anxiety by looking at information through the lens of facts alone.
Would seeing the terms “respiratory illness” or “contagious” have caused immune-system-compromising fear in you any other time?
Then don’t allow it to afflict you in this way now. As we saw above, such fear does not serve your body.
So then, what if you are infected with this coronavirus?
Let’s take a look at your “odds” through a numerical lens here:
As of right now, it is still estimated that most who are infected with Covid will only experience mild symptoms, with the current overall recovery rate for Covid being between 97 and 99.75%!
And yes, you read that correctly. As of only a few months ago, in accordance with the data received by the CDC, only a quarter of a percent up to three percent of the global population has not recovered from Covid.
But, if you’re still concerned, perhaps you have a comorbidity that you feel puts you at greater risk for complications from Covid, then let’s look at some ways to fight any fears or anxieties that you may have which could be weakening your body’s defense system.
How To Fight Fear
We know that fear can hinder your immune system, increasing your susceptibility to illness, here corona, so what can you do about it?
1- Activity Over Anxiety
Being physically active can actually strengthen your immune system, but it also has the specific benefit of reducing anxiety.
As you exercise, you are essentially distracting your mind from the things that may be making you anxious.
And, physical activity:
- Relieves anxiety-related muscle tension
- Increases neurochemicals in the brain associated with anxiety-relief
- Activates regions of the brain associated with controlling real or imagined threats
Mindfulness and even present moment awareness have been proven to reduce anxiety.
These practices involve being fully aware of the present, allowing your senses to fully focus on the moment.
Breathing exercises, sitting or walking meditation, and even guided imagery are mindfulness practices that help to reduce fear and anxiety.
3- Time Out
Taking time out from whatever may be causing you fear or anxiety is a healthy way to reduce those immune-system-hindering emotions.
If you find yourself becoming anxious, here regarding corona, take a few moments to breathe slowly, pause, and assess the situation. Without self-judgement, appropriately assess the emotions that are surfacing, step back from those thoughts, and get an accurate view of the fears that are besetting you.
4- Knowing Is Half The Battle
I realize we discussed the facts surrounding corona above, but it’s worth repeating here as knowledge is a great dispeller of fear.
If you begin to feel anxious, review the facts to calm those fears.
Our emotions can be sprinters, seeking to quickly run with distorted views and misinformation.
Educating yourself regarding the truths of the matter effectively works to slow our emotions and allow us to react to a given situation more appropriately.
5- Talk It Out
Sometimes fear and anxiety can be alleviated by simply spending some time talking about those fears or feelings with a loved one.
Talking with a loved one or professional about fears or anxieties can help you clarify and resolve the issue that is causing the anxious thoughts.