The COVID-19 virus has become something that people are terrified of getting. In response to this fear, people are hoarding everything from meat to toilet paper. However, being so afraid has an unexpected consequence, the lowering of the immune system’s ability to fight off disease.

This article will focus on the effects of fear on the human body and ways we can mitigate the danger that stress causes when there is a potentially fatal virus floating around.

Stress Hormones and the Human Immune System

The human body has a wonderful way of responding to danger. This response involves the amygdala and neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and how they affect the body.

When frightened, the amygdala recognizes the danger first and shoots out chemical signals to other parts of the body that triggers a cascade of releases in stress hormones.

These hormones trigger responses in our bodies that include all of the following:

  • The heart rate increases
  • The blood pressure increases
  • Blood is stolen from the digestive system for the legs and arms
  • The body is flooded with epinephrine and norepinephrine

There are other brain regions not listed above that are vital for the fear response but we need not go into those as I believe you can glean enough from what I’ve just said.

However, there is one other response. When the body is readying itself for fight/flight/ or freeze it takes resources away from the immune system making the person who is afraid unable to fight off disease as well as they might have done before the triggering event.

We Are Traumatizing Ourselves

By allowing ourselves to become terror-filled by the COVID-19 virus, we are setting ourselves up for a lowered immune response and illness. In the process of being filled with fear, we are actually traumatizing ourselves and if it is not resolved quickly, it will make you sick. Period.

You may not get the COVID-19 virus, but if exposed to another virus such as the common cold or flu A or B, you will be much more susceptible.

Let’s not forget mental health. Being in a constant state of fear will take an enormous toll on mental health as well. It is impossible not to become filled with anxiety and depression when one is fearful.

Take Appropriate Precautions

In no way am I stating that the COVID-19 virus isn’t dangerous, it is. However, living in terror of catching it is actually more harmful than the virus itself.

Be proactive and pay attention to what the authorities are telling about the virus in terms of how it is spread and how severe it might be. Primarily, there are recommended guidelines spelled out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). (I’m giving you links below)

These include (Resource: coronavirus.com)

Wash your hands frequently

 Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

Maintain social distancing

 Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. (this has now been updated to 6 feet distance between yourself and others as a general rule, regardless of the evidence of symptoms)

Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.

Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth

Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.

Practice respiratory hygiene

Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

Why? Droplets spread the virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.

If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early

Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.

These aren’t difficult instructions to follow and they could save you from unnecessary exposure.

Some Final Words

Is the COVID-19 virus dangerous? Yes, especially if you are over sixty and/or have conditions such as COPD, asthma, diabetes, or any type of medical condition.

Should we panic? No. To panic is to invite instability not only in our own lives and bodies but also to our communities. Fear will lower your immune response and make you MORE vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, not less.  Do things to remain calm such as the ones listed at the end of this article. Don’t stress over things that may not happen. Life will go on when this crisis is over.

Should we stock-up on goods just in case? No. Hoarding things will not prevent one from getting the virus either. Hoarding just makes it harder for everyone to find what they need from the store.

My advice to all is to take heed of where you and avoid large gatherings or crowds. Be mindful of who is about you. If you notice someone coughing or sneezing then you might want to move away. This is good advice all the time as the common cold is very contagious as are other relatively harmless viruses.

Above all else, look out for one another. Don’t allow your fear to keep you from checking on your neighbor or being kind to others. We are all in this crisis together and we need to draw on all our strengths such as compassion and empathy to get through this time of trouble.

“I think 80 percent of the population are really great, caring people who will help you and tell you the truth. That’s just the way it is.” ~ Tom Hanks

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” ~ Saint Augustine

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” ~ Frank Herbert

Center for Disease Control (CDC)

World Health Organization (WHO)

Eight Ways to Get or Remain Calm

  1. Take deep breaths through your mouth and blow it out slowly. Doing this will allow your body to de-stress and have an immediate calming effect on you.

 

  1. Challenge your thinking. Are you living in doom and gloom? Are you feeling lonely? Why are you afraid?

 

  1. Change your focus. If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions, then you need to change what you are obsessing about. Open your window and allow the cool or even cold breeze to blow across your face. Go outside on your porch or patio and allow the sun to shine on your face. If it is raining, take an umbrella and go out then listen to the rain as it hits the umbrella’s surface. Do anything that will distract you from your worries and fears.

 

  1. Admit that you’re anxious or afraid. Admit it to yourself and any other adult you can to bring your fear out into the open. Allowing yourself to express that you are worried, fearful, or anxious takes the power away from it that it would have if you kept it secret. DO NOT tell your children you are feeling this way it will only frighten them and cause them stress.

 

  1. Let the anxiety, fear, and worry go. You can do this by practicing mindfulness or by exercising. Allowing the fear and worry to flow through you helps too. Use your imagination and feel the fear rushing through your body and out your feet. This imagery, believe it or not, helps enormously.

 

  1. Think your worry and fear through. Are there ways to protect yourself from getting sick? Yes, by following the instructions from the CDC and WHO such as washing your hands frequently and not touching your face. Should you be cautious? Yes. Becoming very cautious about where you are and who you have contact with is important to staying well.

 

  1. Listen to music. Music has a very calming effect on the human brain and will help you cope with the virus threat and the social isolation you need to maintain to remain healthy.

 

  1. Play with your children or your pets. Play brings out the best in humans and allows for laughter and fun. There is no better cure for anxiety than to wrestle with the kids or play fetch with your dog.

 

We here at the CPTSD Foundation want you to know and to keep in mind that we are here for you when you need us. We realize that these are fear-filled times, and we want to help you in any way we can.

 

As always, if you or a loved one are living in the despair and isolation that comes with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please, come to us for help. The CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services including:

All our services are reasonably priced, some are free, and scholarships are available. In fact, all the money paid for our services goes back into scholarships so that no one need be left behind because of inability to pay.  So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up, we’ll be glad to help you.

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