Stop Panicking – It’s Bad For Your Immune System
The current global health crisis, set in motion by the rapid spread of the coronavirus, is very real and very serious. This article is not here to dispute that. But on a micro-level, we owe it to ourselves and our peers to maintain some degree of calm and rationale.
Yes, we should all be practicing proper hygiene and, yes, if you are a senior citizen or have a compromised immune system then please stay home and take the right precautions to protect your health. But for the rest of us, I think it’s worth taking stock of the mass hysteria, fear and anxiety that we’ve now seen infiltrate our gyms, supermarkets and public transport systems and acknowledge the very limited benefits this has to protect us from getting sick.
Acute stress (the type which lasts a matter of minutes) can be beneficial for the body; it spikes cortisol and mobilises certain kinds of cells into the bloodstream, preparing the body in case it needs to fight off injury or infection, and it also increases our blood levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Inflammation is a necessary short-term response for eliminating pathogens and initiating healing. All good stuff. But here’s the catch – it’s not as though we live in an “acute stress” world. The anxiety you’re currently experiencing about the looming implications of the coronavirus and whether or not you might contract it is being compounded with the stress you already feel about your job or your relationship or your mortgage. And if you’re moving about your day in a constant state of fight-or-flight, guess what? Your immune system is compromised. Chronic stress, like acute stress, increases those pro-inflammatory cytokines I mentioned earlier, but it has completely different consequences. When inflammation stops being “temporary” and starts becoming “systemic”, your immune system dysregulates and its ability to fight off infection is suppressed.
So in other words, my dear friends: Wash your hands, take a deep breath and keep moving.