A recent study by the CDC of over half a million Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 sought to better understand which comorbidities led to likely severe cases of the disease. It’s important to note that 95% of those hospitalized had at least 1 pre-existing condition. It has been well-publicized that obesity is a major contributing factor to complications with Covid-19, but this study found that the most common health issues in hospitalized Covid-19 patients who died were first obesity and second anxiety and fear-related conditions.
Before the pandemic began, we saw a lot of people who complained of anxiety. It is definitely the case that the health of the nervous system and of the gut are paramount when it comes to mental health. Often improving diet and getting regular adjustments enable people to make huge strides towards calming anxiousness. Once the pandemic began the rate of anxiety we saw in our patients skyrocketed. This is not surprising at the outset, when there are a lot of unknowns, but the levels didn’t settle down much as time marched on.
First, why might feelings of worry and fear contribute to a bad outcome with Covid-19? Here are a few things that are going on when fear is too often present:
- Fear weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death.
- Fear can impair formation of long-term memories and cause damage to certain parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus. This can make it even more difficult to regulate fear and can leave a person anxious most of the time. To someone in chronic fear, the world looks scary and their memories confirm that.
- Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately.
- Other consequences of long-term fear include fatigue, clinical depression, and PSTD.
Obviously, measures need to be taken to promote calm and ease anxiety. The brain doesn’t know the difference between things that are actually happening, and things we think about. While this can work to our advantage, it’s working against us when we watch or read the news. Right now, the news is all fear, all the time. Turn it off. If you aren’t already, start doing those things you know help calm your mind. Do a little mindful breathwork, it only takes a few seconds. Take 10 minutes to meditate each day. Make a list of things you appreciate/feel grateful for. Each of these things takes very little time, but there is ample evidence that they can make a huge difference. Isn’t it worth it to stay healthy and alive?