The Epidemic You Know About
You likely have heard that there is a virus sweeping the globe. Symptoms include respiratory issues and gastro-intestinal problems. Some cases have led to death.
Despite precautionary measures like imposed quarantines and self-quarantines, the virus seems to be spreading. The most severe cases seem to be in those who had previously existing conditions or compromised immune systems.
Although the percentage of reported deaths seems to be high in comparison to other viruses, it’s important to remember that percentages are relative numbers. If you counted all the people who likely have the virus but are asymptomatic, the percent of those who died would decrease.
This seems to be the situation here. According to experts, it is likely that more people are walking around with this virus without showing symptoms, increasing the risk that this will continue to proliferate via “community spread.”
Despite employing and enforcing rigid containment strategies, the virus is ultimately uncontainable, because many people are asymptomatic. This means they’ll incubate the virus and transmit it without ever experiencing symptoms. Or at least symptoms that that they know about.
In fact, the danger of this virus is a combination of how easy it spreads and the fact that it isn’t terribly lethal.
[The virus has] evolved in humans to maximize their own spread—which means sickening, but not killing…
With its potent mix of characteristics, this virus is unlike most that capture popular attention: It is deadly, but not too deadly. It makes people sick, but not in predictable, uniquely identifiable ways…the new virus may be most dangerous because, it seems, it may sometimes cause no symptoms at all.
So, yes, the coronavirus you’re reading and obsessing about is more likely to affect you in some way than you might have thought. You’ve likely already come into contact with someone who has it, or you will soon.
The Other Epidemic
The other epidemic here is fear. The same criteria apply:
- Physical symptoms include respiratory challenges (trouble breathing, shortness of breath) and gastrointestinal problems.
- It can make you sick but is unlikely to kill you unless you have a compromised system.
- Easily transmits from person to person.
- You can transmit it without being aware that you have it.
For most of us, the epidemic of fear is a much greater threat.
To be clear: none of this is to suggest that the coronavirus is not a serious threat for some people. For the vast majority, however, while the risk of exposure may be high, the consequences are not lethal.
Does that mean you should be careless? Of course not. Wash your hands. Be aware of who is around you and if they are coughing. Do all the things you can do.
But don’t give in to fear and panic, because that’s worse.
The fear may not kill you but it can wreak havoc on your health, weakening your immune system and leaving you more vulnerable to the effects of the other virus.
Stress is the body’s physical response to a change in external circumstances. It is the fear response — the activation of your sympathetic nervous system, which puts you in “fight-or-flight mode.” Your body fills with adrenaline, giving you the surge of energy you need to fight off the attack.
The physical symptoms of stress include a rapid heart rate, clammy palms and shallow breath.
Chronic stress — when the body stays in fight-or-flight mode because it consistently perceives threats or the initial external stressor doesn’t resolve — is linked to health concerns such as digestive issues, an increased risk of heart problems and a weakened of the immune system.
How to Strengthen Your Immunity
How can you protect yourself against the physical manifestations of fear?
The same way you strengthen your immunity against any virus: stay away from people who appear to be infected. Stop feeding yourself the fear that comes through the news and social media. Keep your hands and your energy clean. Exercise.
Also: take deep breaths.
This is not just a cliché.
Deep breaths are the physical antidote to the shallow breathing that fear produces. Just a few minutes of slow, deep breathing will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, sending a signal to your muscles and organs that you are safe and that fight-or-flight mode isn’t necessary.
This will free up your immune system to protect against other threats, like the coronavirus.