How Fear Affects Your Immune System

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How Fear Affects Your Immune System

Guest Post by Dr Mariah Mosley

Why your health may be severely suffering during the COVID19 outbreak, even if you are not exposed: The scariest part of this pandemic

This isn’t going to be an article trying to convince you the COVID-19 virus isn’t something to worry about, because right now having some fears come up is unavoidable. I primarily attribute this to the media is pushing intense fear/panic at us, by using inaccurate footage1 of overcrowded hospitals in NYC (but it was actually Italy), deaths attributed to COVID19 when the person in question is actually alive and well2, or died from other causes. 

The United States as a whole is in a moral panic. Will our jobs be okay? Will the stock market crash? Will we all get sick and die? Do we have enough toilet paper in our house to last six more months? 

We have to learn how to deal with this “moral panic”3 that is way more likely to infect our minds than our lungs.

Long-Term Stress and Physical Consequences

First I want to say that it is not inherently abnormal to jump to fear in a state of “crisis”. This is a protective and paramount mechanism that humans have instilled within them: to SURVIVE. 

However, this mechanism is meant for short bursts only. When we are in this state of fear and worry for extended periods of time, it will physically cause issues. Countless studies4 have shown this correlation: how “chronic stress has a significant effect on the immune system that ultimately manifest in illness”. 

It has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes by altering insulin needs. Stress can cause peptic ulcers or ulcerative colitis, as it can alter the acid in the stomach (side note: low stomach acid is not a good thing, more on PPIs and their dangers here5). Chronic stress and worrying over your fears can also lead to plaque build up in arteries7. It also has a stronger correlation with psychiatric illness, like depression6 and schizophrenia.  There are also recent studies that show a link between stress and tumor development (cancer) and suppression of natural killer cells (the ones that usually destroy cancer in our bodies)8,9. 

According to Occupational Health and Safety news and the National Council on compensation of insurance, “up to 90% of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related complaints.”4

Fear and the Immune System

Exposure to acute stress, trauma, and fear have been shown in both mice and humans to compromise immune function10 and impair lymphocyte function (lymphocytes are our white blood cells that fight viruses). Fear and stress makes you more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

Strategies to Combat Fear

One technique you can use for fear when it comes up is deep belly breathing with positive affirmations. This helps coax the body into a relaxation mode, and it is very helpful in stressful situations when you feel any anxiety rising up. By breathing down deeply into your belly (not expanding your chest), you are stimulating the Vagus nerve, which runs along the diaphragm to put your body back into parasympathetic mode (calming, slows heart rate, helps digestion).  It’s hard to catch yourself before going into the rabbit hole of fear, but it is very helpful, and possible with practice!

  1. When you feel the fear and the “what-if” thoughts start to rise up. Stop right where you are. Close your eyes.
  2. Find a positive affirmation of truth that completely counters the previous worry. For example: for fear of disease, use “My body is strong, healthy, and I trust my immune system”. Or for fear of financial loss, use “I am capable of anything, and trust that God has my back in this”.  Find whatever works for you.
  3. Place your hands over your lower belly, with your pointer and middle fingers touching.
  4. Breath deep into your belly through your nose. Your hands should separate slightly as you breathe in.
  5. Breathe out all the way, slowly through your mouth.
  6. Do 10-20 deep breaths, then open your eyes and notice if you feel more grounded and stable. 

What the Scriptures Say

The last thing I want to say is that in the Bible, God commands us to “fear not” over 100 times. The enemy will use fear to decrease our hope in Him, so I hope these verses resonate with you like they do for me in my times of struggle and anxious thoughts.

— 2nd Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

— Psalm 84:11: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.”

— Deuteronomy 31:8  “He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

— Psalm 18:2  “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer.”

Be safe and well my friends!

References:

  1. CBS News admits ‘mistake’ after airing footage of overcrowded Italian hospital in report about NYC.  https://www.foxnews.com/media/cbs-news-admits-mistake-after-airing-footage-of-overcrowded-nyc-hospital-that-was-actually-in-italy?fbclid=IwAR2K5S_9AXRF5_W25JtFrRcLe37N1dCMGuNeEhShpQICf9OfxkKNZROZEfY
  2. Pasco Man Surprised To See Florida Announce His Coronavirus Death.  https://patch.com/florida/landolakes/pasco-man-surprised-see-state-announce-death-coronavirus
  3. The Coronavirus Is Much Worse Than You Think. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/culture-mind-and-brain/202002/the-coronavirus-is-much-worse-you-think?fbclid=IwAR0kuhEMZepWK_C3mwpOI-jw5uRYDUE026sdXLwExd8bf5-Ac9s7CYjVj8s
  4. Life Event, Stress, and Illness. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/
  5. Low Stomach Acid and Why it Matters.  https://www.naturecurefamilyhealth.com/articles/low-stomach-acid-and-why-it-matters/
  6. The effects of stressful like events on depression. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9046559
  7. Stress and coronary heart disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3325022
  8. Evidence that stress and surgical interventions promote tumor development by suppressing natural killer cell activity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10074922
  9. Anxiety and pain suppress the natural killer cell activity in oral surgery outpatients.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11402277
  10. What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out?  https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-happens-when-your-immune-system-gets-stressed-out/

11. The Bible. https://www.biblegateway.com

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By |2020-04-10T11:57:33-07:00April 10th, 2020|Categories: Articles, Mental Health|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Lauren Deville is board-certified to practice medicine in the State of Arizona. She received her NMD from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, AZ, and she holds a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from the University of Arizona, with minors in Spanish and Creative Writing. She also writes fiction under a pen name in her spare time. Visit her author website at www.authorcagray.com.

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