Updated: Mar 26, 2020
Many of us are frightened and anxious as we self isolate, contrary to our innate communal nature. It is almost as if we are waiting for the other shoe to fall, the inevitable infection to strike, defenseless against the virus’s lethality. We are told repeatedly we are all at risk and that eventually all of us will “get it”. Does that mean 20% of us will be dying, panicking when we can no longer breathe?
Let us review some basic premises to better understand how stress reduction practices can help us remain well. Stress reduction practices, whether it is meditation, yogic breathing, music therapy, restorative yoga or mindful enjoyment of art, all activate an important biologic system in our bodies that promotes wellness and hinders illness.
At the root of most acute and chronic illnesses is the way our immune system responds to stress. The human immune system is very complex and evolved from the human species’ early need to react quickly to unforeseen invaders, whether it be wild animals or a never before seen infectious agent like we are now facing in the COVID-19 virus. Although a robust immune response might mitigate early morbidity and mortality from a new threat, aspects of the “innate” immune system’s response can prove damaging to healthy organs and in fact might lead to premature death in a subset of individuals who are otherwise frail.
How to best explain the apparent excess mortality from COVID-19? Death from the virus seems to result from irreversible damage to the lung tissue. We are not seeing overwhelming infection in the lungs but rather we are seeing lungs being destroyed. The virus does not do this. The immune system does!
Part of our innate immune response to danger is the activation of cells called macrophages that have the capacity to eat up and destroy cells that are damaged, decayed or senescent. Their actions are controlled by other immune cells called T cells. In an ideal world, there should be a fine balance in cell activity and interaction such that only infected cells are destroyed. Unfortunately, there is often an imbalance, as seen in aging people or those with chronic illnesses that promote chronic inflammation from continuous immune stimulation. The end result is a too robust macrophage response destroying healthy cells in their endeavor to eat up infected cells.
Chronic inflammation and its consequences on the immune system are at the root of most illnesses including COVID-19 infection. Chronic inflammation is mediated by the release of proteins called cytokines. Macrophages actually are factories for making these proteins!
How can we dampen down chronic inflammation?
There are many facets to answering this question, but I want to focus for this blog on stress hormones and their ability to stimulate chronic inflammation. It is well known that cortisol, made by our adrenal glands and released in excess amounts in the setting of acute stress, and epinephrine and related molecules, made by our sympathetic nervous systems and released in excess amounts with stress, stimulate cytokine production and augment the inflammatory response. These responses are useful in the acute setting to promote healing as needed for example to heal a laceration, but harmful in the chronic setting as they promote the needless chronic activation of cells including macrophages that lead to unnecessary tissue damage.
What to do to mitigate this harmful immune activity? Employ stress reduction practices!
Western science has been studying the biology of some of these ancient practices and the results are very clear. The stress reduction practices outlined by Wellspring.Global can favorably alter our body’s balance between chronic stress with its associated damage and wellness in as little as 20 minutes! The favorable responses are mediated by the release of wellness hormones like oxytocin and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system which counterbalances the detrimental effects of the sympathetic nervous system.
I cannot promise you that our offerings will completely protect you from the potentially grave effects of a COVID-19 infection, but I can promise you that you will feel more in control of your situation and that is a blessing we all should be grateful for! There are many paths to take on this site; please explore them and let us know what works best for you.