At the beginning of every year, I usually go to my doctor for an annual physical exam. I remember the first time this doctor consulted me; she was so amazed by my lab results. She said I was so healthy, and that she rarely sees such a good lab report. When I went back this past January, it was a different story. My lab report was not as good as usual. My white blood cells were lower, my blood sugar was higher, my cholesterol was higher too, and many other markers were not as good as usual. What then had happened, that could have created such a drastic change in my biochemistry?
It’s called stress, that’s what had happened to me. Sustained emotional stress, as a result of grief, due to the sudden passing of my daughter in September 2019.
What is stress, and how does it impact you?
Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment. It’s the body’s natural defense against a threat. The threat can be emotional (e.g., fear, anxiety, sadness…), physical (e.g., Pulling a muscle, fracturing your wrist…), or physiological (e.g., food sensitivity, bacteria, viruses…). It causes the body to release a high amount of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, along with other chemicals to help you run from the threat or to confront it.
Imagine what would happen if you were chased by a large dog during your walk?
As soon as you perceive the danger, your heart rate and breathing go up, your alertness increases, and your legs feel stronger. The “fight-or-flight” response, also known as the stress response is what causes all these changes in your body, so you can be more effective running for your life. This mechanism is intended to save your life in an emergency. It’s meant to be short, and your body should be able to return to its normal state. Most of the time, this is what happens when dealing with a real threat, such as being chased by a large dog, or when the body is invaded by a virus or bacteria.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case with emotional stress, considering this type of stress tends to last longer, for weeks, months, and even years. When you are constantly sad, anxious, angry, frustrated, or afraid, the body also perceived those emotions as a threat. And, whether the threat is real or not, it responds in the same way as it does with actual danger. The problem is that you can easily go for months with these emotions, which means that the body is staying in a “Fight-or-flight” state longer than it should, and this can be so detrimental to your health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought so many changes in our lives overnight, changes that are inconvenient and frustrating. As a result, most people are living in fear and anxiety. Nobody knows when all this is going to end, which creates even more anxiety. Consequently, the body will activate the “Fight-or-Flight” mechanism that can easily last for months in this situation. You do not have control over what’s going on at the time, but you still have full control over your emotions. Stress can lower your immune function, and also impair your digestion and sleep, which further weakens your body’s natural defense. One of the best ways to protect yourself from the COVID-19 is to keep fear and anxiety away, considering stress from these emotions can highly increase your risk of getting infected.
The Bottom Line
Sustained stress from fear and anxiety can lower your immune function, causing your body to become more vulnerable to COVID-19 and other diseases. That’s why as we are going through this time of turmoil, it’s critical to take intentional actions to maintain the peace of God in your heart. Find out how to maintain the peace of God in my next article: Knock Fear and Anxiety Down With These 4 Habits