Worried about COVID-19? You may be putting yourself at undue risk, because chronic anxiety suppresses the immune system and increases our risk for infection.
The psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing incredible distress. I ran into a friend at the grocery store the other day. She was wiping down her cart with antiseptic. Under normal circumstance, this behaviour would seem bizarre, but in the current COVID-19 climate, it has become acceptable.
Although it is important to be prepared during this pandemic, we do not need to panic.
Anxiety about the unknown (such as our risk of COVID-19) can hyperactivate the fear centre in the brain called the amygdala. In terms of evolution, this is one of the oldest parts of the brain and its operations are quite primitive; it acts like a trigger-happy alarm that interfaces with the stress system to keep our body and mind on high alert for as long as we are feeling anxious. Research shows that the mere suggestion of danger, even if it never is experienced, is enough to trigger the amygdala and activate the stress response. This is what keeps people awake at night, lying in bed worrying about COVID-19.
The problem is that chronic activation of the stress systems can damage our cells and upset many of the body’s functions. Our immune system bears the brunt. Although psychological stress is not pathogenic per se, the damage it causes to the body’s cells triggers an immune response that makes us more susceptible to a foreign pathogen. This may increase our risk for infection with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Chronic over-worrying about COVID-19 can intensify our vulnerability to viruses by creating an imbalance in immune function.
Resisting the effects of anxiety
What can we do to prevent panic and bolster immune protection? Physical activity can protect your body from chronic stress-induced inflammation.
Studies show that a brisk walk, jog or bike ride can help keep you calm and healthy during these uncertain times so you can be prepared without the panic.
Dietitian / Nutritionist
M.Sc. Nutritional Medicine