In these fascinating and dark times, we’re faced with more fear and paranoia with fewer facts to go on than ever before. For many people, Covid-19 is nothing more than an inconvenience that they know they’d survive from. For many others, it’s a terrifying demon to be faced that stands a very good chance of winning. We try to turn to the news for information, but we often find little more than clusters of mania and bad facts that aren’t much help.
How Fear Affects Our Immune System
The immune system is made up of billions of cells that travel through the bloodstream to defend the body against foreign objects (antigens) such as cancer cells, viruses, and bacteria. Fear causes stress, and when we’re stressed the hormone “cortisol” increases and suppresses the effectiveness of the immune system. In turn, the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is greatly reduced.
Long-term suppression of the immune system leaves the body vulnerable to diseases and infections. A current example is Covid-19 pandemic. Because the fear of this disease causes stress, it weakens the immune systems, thereby increasing a person’s risk of dying from the disease if acquired.
Self-Care Tips to Cope With Fear and Build Immunity
Stress and immune system functioning go hand in hand, so what can we do to calm ourselves down in the face of such fear? Stop and think. Below are simple self-care tips to diminish fear, build your immunity, and maintain serenity during challenging times.
1. Maintain Calm and Self-Awareness
The last thing you want to do during any sort of panic is to…well, panic. Believe it or not, you can actually lower your immune system by giving in to too much stress. So the very best thing you can do first and foremost is to tell yourself to stop…breathe…relax…and think. Calm your heart rate, remind yourself to stay in control.
Now more than ever is it so important to balance your instinctive sense of fear with your craving for information and control. First off, be sure to stay informed on the situation, but understand that you have mental limits. Learn when you need to address those limits and turn off the TV or remove yourself from social media. Don’t let your desire to be informed make you more fearful than you already are.
2. Stay Connected with Others
Right now, the politicians of the world are very fond of using the phrase “social distancing”. That’s wrong. What they should be saying is “physical distancing”, which is what they’re talking about —keeping a minimum physical distance between yourself and others to prevent the spread of infection. That makes sense. Right now, however, you do not at all want to socially distance yourself from others.
In fact, connecting with friends and loved ones, even from a distance, may be what helps you mentally overcome these challenges in the coming weeks. Loneliness leads to stress which leads to illness. Take advantage of our wonderful modern technology and stay in contact with people, even if you can’t see them.
3. Reduce Your Stress
As we’ve stated, stress can lead to a lowered immune system, which leads to illness, potentially even Covid-19. Cortisol production is skyrocketed during times of high stress. Normally, this is a good chemical to have, as it helps to combat inflammation in the body to ward off problems. So why does cortisol suppress the immune system? Or rather, why does too much of it have that effect? Too much of it can drastically lower its effectiveness against any foreign invaders in your body.
High cortisol level symptoms can create an excess of free-floating anxiety that doesn’t have an outlet. This is why managing stress is so important. Whatever you can think of that will calm you down and keep you even. Maybe meditation or yoga, going for walks (which is actually highly recommended despite the quarantine) or doing an art project. Watch a favorite old movie or take a nap with the cat, whatever you can think of.
4. Build Up Your Immunity
If you’ve already been working on this, then that’s great. You’re half-prepared already. But if you’re like too many of us, you haven’t given it much thought until now when your immune system is at the forefront of your mind. The best thing you can do is basic care — get lots of exercise and eat right, and if you have to, take some necessary vitamin supplements. Research has even shown that people who get on average about seven hours of sleep per night, stand a better chance of avoiding getting sick than most.
5. Eat Healthy Foods
Your body is going to need as much fortification as it can get and the healthy, unprocessed stuff is the way to go. Eat more healthy organic foods like citrus fruits, red bell peppers, garlic, broccoli, spinach, kale, almonds, yogurt, poultry, and fish. These are all loaded with vitamins, proteins, and antioxidants which give your body the extra defensive boost it needs. Staying hydrated is also extra important, as well as avoiding alcohol consumption for now.
6. Gratitude and Journaling
A good way to minimize stress is to try to focus more on the positive than the negative. By remembering that despite your circumstances, you’re actually very fortunate and looking at the various accomplishments you’ve achieved, you should feel a little better. If you have a roof and some food, you’re in a pretty decent spot.
As for journaling, this one is easy — it’s a safe space where you can release all your anger and frustration without any repercussions (so long as the journal stays private). If just remembering your good fortune isn’t enough, you can release all the negativity into the pages of your journal to make the process a little bit easier. You can even combine the two into gratitude journaling for a more tangible positivity reminder to yourself whenever you might need it.
7. Hobbies, Hobbies, and More Hobbies
Whatever activity you can think of that’ll get your mind off your current worries is one you should definitely consider turning into a hobby. Not only does it provide a distraction, but it also might just be something that makes you happy. Maybe you’re into a sport, like golf or tennis. Or maybe you’re more artistic, so you’d spend your time painting or knitting. Reading a book is also a great stress reliever, as are playing video games or listening to music.
Hobbies will get your brain to shut off what’s concerning it the most, keeping it occupied with something constructive. This will ease your stress and make you feel accomplished when you look back and see what you were able to do while you weren’t sitting on the couch, fussing over things you have no control over.
8. Practice Good Hygiene
This one is essential for staying healthy even at the best of times. Making sure to wash your hands effectively will drastically cut down your chances of getting sick, even with something relatively new like Covid-19. Hot soapy water helps cease the spread of disease and infection, and it’s highly recommended you do so before and after eating as well. If you have to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and wash your hands. If you’ve been outside and handled things, wash your hands. The water should be hot and you should scrub them for approximately thirty to forty seconds, or so.
Make sure that any kids in the family are careful about staying clean, as well. We all know that kids aren’t really as concerned about hygiene as adults are, and too many are all too easy about walking out of the bathroom without pausing by the sink first. So make sure your kids are following the same hygienic rules that you are. Don’t wait until a pandemic to begin thinking you should practice good hygiene.
Make sure that your living area is kept clean as well. Spend an hour or so every day wiping down surfaces you handle frequently and objects that are essentials to your daily life. Use a good antibacterial wipe or spray and get every part of the surface that you can reach. It’s also recommended to air out your space periodically, as fresh air will also improve your mental state while you’re stuck at home, especially if you’re high risk and can’t go out.
Aside from the health benefits, cleaning your living space can also have a tremendous effect on your mood. By living in a neat, clean area, we’re less likely to feel stressed out and confined by our surroundings, ultimately leaving us happier and more content and comfortable in our homes. As a side bonus, it just feels good to get everything back in its proper order.
10. Use Humor
The best medicine really is laughter, so if you’re feeling down on your luck over this admittedly grim situation, then try to laugh. Put in a funny movie or an old cartoon, or read a funny book or some comics. Listen to Weird Al. We hear he’s a particularly hilarious source of good humor. Whatever you can do to get that funny bone tickled, we recommend you try.
You’ll only survive this partially because of a healthy mental state and laughter is one of the best ways to keep that brain strong. Laughing not only tempers natural fear, making it seem not as bad as it looks, but it also releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. This makes one feel light and less intense. Give it a try the next time a dark mood storms at your door.
This is a dark period and togetherness and innovation are what’s going to keep us out of the red. We have to remember that stress will only make us more vulnerable to illness right now. This will all pass in the end. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass, and we can help it along by staying strong and positive.