With the number of confirmed Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases across the UK slowly increasing, there seems to be an equivalent rise in stress, worry and overwhelm. Whilst it is important to stay up to date on the information being provided by the NHS and the Government on how to keep you and your family safe, it’s also necessary to look after your mental health to take care of your physical health.
Stress is our body’s natural reaction when we feel threatened or under pressure. It’s very easy at a time like this to feel a little stressed and overwhelmed with what is going on, and the uncertainty about what could happen to us, our loved ones or our community.
Evidence has shown that acute (short-lived) stress can give our immune system a boost, but when the stress becomes prolonged, it can actually make our immune system less effective.
There are lots of reasons for this, but one of the main ones is the production of larger than normal amounts of a stress hormone called Cortisol. This suppresses parts of our immune system.
Also, when we are stressed for longer periods of time, we tend not to look after ourselves so well. Lack of sleep, or unhealthy behavioural choices to manage the stress – such as drinking, smoking or overeating.
So the longer we are stressed, the less effective our immune system will be at battling potentially infectious agents such as the coronavirus.
If you want to read more about stress and the immune system, here is a very useful and informative article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information
Here’s how it works…
A big part of the immune system are the white cells. There are two main types: Phagocytes and Lymphocytes.
These cells prevent and resolve disease by dealing with any microorganisms (pathogens) that enter the body.
Long term stress suppresses the Lymphocytes white cells that make the other parts of the immune system work more quickly and effectively against a specific pathogen.
Which means that the specific response is slower and it’s harder to “win the battle”.
As we get older, our immune response is less effective, hence the higher impact on older people who contract coronavirus (and many other infectious diseases).
Currently, there are no treatments available for COVID-19, so if we are infected it will be dealt with solely by our immune systems, and any efforts by the medical profession or ourselves are simply there to support that.
So, as well as following the NHS and Government guidance on how to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus, remember to also look after your mental wellbeing, and therefore your immune response.
Here are some suggestions on ways to reduce stress and anxiety and look after yourself during the coronavirus outbreak.
Manage how you follow the outbreak in the media
We all know how strong an influence the media has over the news. It’s therefore important to not get caught up in the scaremongering. Do stay up to date with the outbreak but ensure the sources you are reading are legitimate and factual. There is plenty of information available on the NHS website here, the .Gov website here and the World Health Organization here.
Talk to someone
Whether it’s a family member, friend, doctor or therapist – reach out and tell someone that you are struggling. Family and friends may not be able to ‘help’ as such. But, just speaking to someone can relieve some of the pressure from you and share the burden.
Exercise is a really good way to relieve stress. It doesn’t need to be anything intense like a full on cardio workout or going to the gym. Even a brisk walk around the block can have a positive effect on our stress levels. If you’re concerned about going out, there are plenty of online videos and tutorials you can follow online and do a workout session in the comfort of your own home.
Use deep breathing techniques
Deep breathing is a very simple, but an extremely effective way of reducing stress. Research shows the rhythmic pace of our breathing can help to balance the nervous system. When we slow our breath down, it allows our hearts, lungs and blood vessels to work more efficiently. This allows more oxygen to enter the brain. It also reduces the production of the stress hormone Cortisol, which can suppress the immune system.
It can be done anywhere, at any time so it’s accessible when you need it. If you’re interested in learning some deep breathing techniques, sign up for my FREE 5 day relaxation challenge here. I will share with you a daily video with techniques I use that will help you to calm your mind and relax.
Meditation is another method using breathing techniques. However, it takes things a step further by also relaxing your mind at the same time. During mindfulness meditation, you’re learning to accept what you are thinking and feeling, rather than fight against it. Studies have shown that meditation can improve the immune system response.
To find out more about meditation, read my blog ‘Can Meditation help ADHD?’.