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Panic Over The Coronavirus May Be Depressing Immune Systems


“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth diminishing your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.”
Steve Maraboli

In the insightful article in Psychology Today, How Stress Affects The Immune System, Andrew Goliszek Ph.D. states that "ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness and disease because the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system, which then releases an array of hormones that not only get us ready for emergency situations but severely depresses our immunity at the same time."

Newscasters, in urgent tones, update us by the minute about the coronavirus threat. Flipping station to station you hear the same anxiety-provoking message: "New deaths from the coronavirus" "Newly diagnosed cases of the coronavirus" "There is another reported outbreak of the coronavirus..." It would be an interesting experiment to check the blood pressure and cortisol levels of viewers before and after watching coronavirus news coverage. News can be informative but it appears that a steady diet of disquieting news can have negative consequences on the immune system, thereby making us more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus and other severe health disorders.

Adding to the distressing newscasts, somber-faced legislators order us not to go out, with some threatening arrest. Workers in hazmat suits and tent hospitals set up in cities is also an unsettling sight, further alarming us. This seems overblown however, for a virus with an overall mortality rate of around 2%. The facts are that most people recover, with the exception of those with previously existing health issues.  It begs the question:   What is all the hype about?

In the childhood fable "The Emperor's New Clothes" two cunning tailors tell the Emperor that the fabric of the clothes they made for him can only be seen by those who are intelligent and brave. It appears invisible to those who are stupid and incompetent. The Emperor dons his "clothes" and sees nothing. Not wanting to appear stupid and incompetent, he praises the suit. When each man who serves the Emperor realizes he sees nothing, they do not want to admit this as they don’t want to appear stupid and incompetent. So, each man lies to the Emperor, saying how wonderful the suit is.

The Emperor then goes on his royal parade through town in front of his entire kingdom with no clothes on. Everyone in the kingdom sees the emperor without clothes, but for fear of being accused of being stupid or incompetent, they all remark at how magnificent he looks. 

Finally, a child yells out, ”The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!” Then everyone realizes what is actually true and starts laughing. Then everyone starts exclaiming together, “The Emperor has no clothes on!” The Emperor then found himself standing in the middle of the parade wearing nothing but his pride.

The moral of the story is how many people will go along with something silly.  By no means are we implying that the coronavirus is silly, but shutting down a nation over a virus with a 2% mortality rate does seem silly. The panicked reaction to the coronavirus seems to be what is wreaking havoc, not the virus itself.

No wonder the American people are stirred into frenzied toilet paper purchases and stockpiling food and hand sanitizer. It's wise to be prepared but all the hysteria could be counterproductive.  Dr. Goliszek asserts in his article that "If we're not able to change our response to stressors, we'll find ourselves in a constant hormonal battle that will lead to serious health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease.  The brain and the immune system are in constant communication in this delicate balance that can be disrupted by any kind of physical or emotional stress."

Furthermore, in his article Goliszek warns that some experts claim that stress is responsible for as much as 90% of all illnesses and diseases, including cancer and heart disease. He explains that it does this by triggering chemical reactions and flooding the body with cortisol that, among other things, decreases inflammation, decreases white blood cells and NK cells (special cells that kill cancer), increases tumor development and growth, and increases the rate of infection and tissue damage.

It appears that the fear and panic induced by urgent newscasts along with the economic uncertainty over a nationwide shutdown serves to pump cortisol into our systems that cause a cascade of harmful chemicals that weaken our immune system.

It makes sense to prepare, but in a calm and reasoned way. The frenzied hysteria that we're seeing in stores, incited by constant news updates of doom makes for a hyped up population, ripe for health problems. 
This makes a good case for turning off the news, taking sensible precautions, and then getting back to the business of life.

 


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