I have not had a lot of time to blog lately, but I feel compelled to spend some time writing about the Coronavirus which I will refer to as COVID19 from here on out.
A Good Resource
We must focus on the facts. I recommend everyone read the following website:
They provide pure data about COVID19 and it is incredibly helpful and comforting to have as much information as possible about a growing problem. Please, try to ignore sensationalized sources that may cause increased stress. Find sources that focus on the facts and good data and give an honest picture of what is going on.
What We Know
Yes, we need to take COVID19 very seriously. This means washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds and rinsing with warm water, not touching your face, and waving or elbow bumping instead of handshaking.
Based on what we know, it seems that the greatest people at risk are the elderly (80 years of age and up) and people with compromised immune systems. Most of us who will contract COVID19 will experience what will essentially feel like a really bad cold. Please keep in mind, you can still have COVID19 even without a fever. So if you are experiencing really bad cold symptoms, take your sick days and stay home for as long as is feasible. We need to protect our elderly people and people with weakened health more than anything else.
Mental Health and the Immune System
In addition to the very basic ways to stay healthy recommended by pretty much all health professionals, I wanted to write a brief mental health perspective on the spread of COVID19.
The great news is that taking care of your mental health during this time will mean a significant boost in your immune system!
So during this time of increased stress, make sure you are taking time to maximize your self-care.
Yeah yeah. It’s the same old adage that every mental health professional preaches. Self-care self-care self-care. Blah blah blah.
However, we know through thousands of studies that the human immune system is massively impacted by psychological factors. Here is one such example by Takahashi et al, 2018. If that isn’t enough, check out the literature review and all the cited sources at the end of the article.
Inflammation, Mental Health, and the Immune System: a Basic Overview
We know that a lot of the problems that the human body struggles with stem from increased inflammation. The primary source of this inflammation comes from the HPA axis. This is the hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal axis. It is primarily responsible for releasing the stress hormone called cortisol (click to read more).
Cortisol on its own is a good thing. Cortisol, “can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance and helps control blood pressure” (hormone.org, 2018). It gets released when we are under stress and is actually helpful in normal amounts.
However, too much cortisol can cause some serious problems. We know that increased cortisol leads to higher rates of inflammation in the entire human body, not just in one spot since multiple parts of your body have cortisol receptors (hormone.org, 2018). This includes your brain and is also part of why stress can cause some physical barriers to recovering from a struggle with depression or anxiety.
Here’s the major takeaway; high levels of cortisol and inflammation also weaken your immune system.
The Bottom Line
So, you’re worried about COVID19? Try maximizing your self-care and use this time to really work on your mental well-being. This is highly protective of contracting many diseases and is really worth taking the time to consider.
Now is not the time to burn the candle at both ends regardless if you are worried about COVID19 or not.
- BREATHE. This is the number one way to manage stress because it doesn’t take a lot of effort and helps us relax. When we become anxious, we often forget to breathe and this can help us immensely. Remember, chronic stress leads to increased cortisol leads to increased inflammation leads to weakened immune system. Take a breath, let your shoulders drop, and try to reframe whatever is causing you stress.
- Take the time to rest.
- Dedicate yourself to getting as much sleep as you can to get towards 8 hours a night.
- If you’re starting to feel run down, don’t go out with your friends and spend some time at home with a big bowl of soup and a great movie.
- Don’t spend time with people who really stress you out and stick to your personal boundaries.
- Spend time with your friends (unless they’re sick) and love on them and soak up their love every second you’re with them.
- WASH YOUR HANDS FOR 20 SECONDS AT A TIME.
- Get in healthy amounts of exercise.
- Spend time in the sun and outside (some studies have suggested that COVID19 doesn’t like sunlight or temps above 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless if this is true or not, we know that fresh air and sunlight are imperative for recovering from and preventing illness).
- Do things that make you happy like personal hobbies.
- STAY HOME IF YOU FEEL UNWELL AND TAKE SOME TIME OFF WORK IF YOU CAN. You are not just a cog in a corporate machine. You deserve time off. If this is something you struggle with, now is a good time to practice taking time for yourself and not overworking yourself.
- Drink a little less and avoid getting drunk as this massively inflames the body and weakens the immune system.
- Avoid recreational drugs or at least limit them.
- Stop smoking or cut back a little. COVID19 impacts the lungs the most and if you are stressing your lungs, it will not help you.
This is just a very short list of the many ways that we can be maximizing our self-care as a society. The panic and fear response many have had to COVID19 is valid. You are allowed to feel how you feel. However, make sure to use as many healthy coping skills as you possibly can. The threats of COVID19 do not have to elicit the fear that they have.
Wash your hands, cough into your elbow, stay home if you’re sick, and get tested and steer clear of people for a bit if you think your cold is more than a cold. Also, if you’re feeling run down or ill, but you still want to talk to a mental health professional, there are many counselors and therapists that offer telehealth therapy and counseling! While this is never my primary modality with clients that are within driving distance from my office, I, and many other professionals, am happy to provide telehealth counseling for people when they are under the weather.
We are going to get through this. Please remember to choose hope. There are so many scientists working on a viable vaccine. If you have some extra cash to burn, consider donating some money to help advance the research we need to neutralize COVID19.
Keep your head up, be smart, take your time making decisions, and take a deep breath. This too shall pass.
Disclaimer: as always, if you are needing to talk to a healthcare professional, please reach out to a qualified mental health professional or physician in your area as this blog is opinion based and not prescriptive.