How Your Thoughts About Coronavirus Affect Your Immune System

Posted by Danielle Sunberg on

Highlights:

  • Stress increases cortisol production in the body which can drastically increase susceptibility to infection.
  • We feel stress when we are overwhelmed by our thoughts.
  • Thoughts are constructs of the mind - they aren’t real.
  • The nature of thought is fluid. Take comfort in knowing these worries will pass.
  • Every moment is an opportunity to choose a different thought and unwind the momentum of our stress.

March 16, 2020 - The coronavirus is everywhere – the fear of it spreads faster than the illness. It’s on everyone’s minds, pervading all our thoughts and feelings, and impacting us whether or not we have flu symptoms. While it’s important to be informed on health issues and prepare our minds and bodies for potential outbreak scenarios, it’s also important to remember that stress and anxiety impact our immune systems too.

Stress drastically reduces the immune system’s ability to fight antigens (e.g. toxins) by increasing the production of the cortisol hormone. Increased cortisol can lower lymphocytes, white blood cells that are also one of the body’s main types of immune cells, thereby increasing susceptibility to infection. 

What can we do to minimize stress? Remember that stress is caused by thoughts – and thoughts are not real. Thoughts are constructs of the mind, and they allow us to do amazing things like think about the future and all kinds of “what ifs.” They are how we create and innovate, solve complex puzzles and invent novel technology. We can also get caught up in “what ifs” that worry us, and this worry causes stress. 

What’s most important to remember when we feel stress is to acknowledge that we are overwhelmed by our thoughts, not by the present moment. What is happening at that moment is that you are most likely just fine, sitting comfortably in a room, and reading these words. 

This truth is so empowering! Acknowledging this reality and becoming present allows us to take back control over our fears, worries, and stress. Every moment is an opportunity to choose a new thought, change the course of our internal discourse, and unwind the momentum of our stress.

Stuck in a thought? Take comfort in knowing it will pass. The nature of thought is fluid. They are transitory and shift like the clouds overhead. One minute you may be thinking about the economic impact of this virus, and the next you are wondering if there’s any ice cream in the back of the freezer. Some thoughts are paralyzing, they linger longer and feel heavier like a dark storm, but eventually, they also pass. 

Think of a previous time you felt weighed down by your thoughts, and notice that the weight of those thoughts has since dissipated. I think about losing my first baby last year, how sad I was, and how I thought I would be sad forever. I still grieve sometimes, but mostly the sad thoughts have passed and I am enjoying my life and my newborn baby girl.

So give yourself a break when you catch yourself stressing out. Take a deep breath and congratulate yourself for noticing your thoughts, and then tell yourself this thought: “I am ok. I’ve got this.”

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