You, Coronavirus, and the Infectious Impact of Fear

By: Kathleen Gramzay Monday March 9, 2020 comments Tags: #coronavirus, #leadership, #selfcare


Have you noticed that challenges are usually multifaceted? There is a problem to solve and the inherent opportunity for learning and growth. In my view, the Coronavirus is such a challenge. We can choose how we respond to it, individually and collectively. And, the better informed we are, the best responses we choose.

I offer the following perspective based on twenty years of study and experience in body/mind health. If you find it of value, feel free to share it with others.

Get the Facts and Take Right Action. In dealing with infectious disease, the first step is to get a clear understanding of the facts in order to take the right action. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s site lists the facts and external common-sense preventative measures to decrease the odds of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

Understand The Infectious Impact of Fear. In addition to taking the right physical precautions, there is another level of prevention you can employ to support your greater health and the health of your community.

Fear has an infectious impact. In understanding the infectious impact of fear and taking steps to thwart it, you can strengthen your immune system and positively contribute to helping your community handle any circumstances that arise.

Put very simply, fear is a feeling response of the nervous system’s evolutionary wiring to keep us safe from threat. Regardless of whether a threat is real or perceived, the body shifts all its resources to survival mode and away from non-emergency functions such as higher-brain critical thinking, immune system function, and social engagement.[1] When your body/mind is in survival mode your individual immune system response is not on-line thereby increasing potential susceptibility to contagions.

Understand Body/Mind Connection Individually and Collectively. For almost 30 years, the HeartMath Institute has been documenting scientific data on the correlation between emotions, heart/ brain coherence, and health. The graph below shows the results of a study[2] comparing the physiological and psychological effects of emotions on the immune system. As shown below, feeling care/compassion or anger for just five minutes resulted in a six-hour impact on the immune system, beneficially, and detrimentally, respectively.


No alt text provided for this image


If a “positive” feeling of care or compassion for five minutes positively impacted the main immune system marker for the following six hours and a “negative” feeling of anger negatively impacted the immune system marker for the next six hours, might it be worth considering how continuous worry about contracting COVID-19 might be affecting your immune system?

Collectively, of greater concern is our ability to face the COVID-19 challenge appropriately and with consideration in mind for each other in our communities and across the globe.

In survival mode, without access to the higher-thinking and social engagement side of the nervous system people tend to react in a “me-vs-them” mode. If fanned by either misinformation or continuous exposure to fear-generating stories, opinions or speculation, fear can quickly become panic negatively impact markets, people’s livelihoods, and exacerbate people mistreating each other.

Body/Mind Prevention Steps to Stay Healthy and Connected. Today, the plethora of information and connectivity makes discernment of our use of it imperative to the outcome of the COVID-19 challenge. The World Health Organization stated today that the "pandemic of misinformation" on social media is so great that it's almost a bigger challenge than the virus itself.

If you'd like to quell your fear, boost your immune system, and empower yourself to be part of the solution to help humanity move through this challenge, below are 8 suggestions to help:

1. Get the facts. Visit the CDC website and take the recommended actions for you, your family, your home, and your workplace. 

2. Stay informed to the level that empowers you. Then, put the rest of your attention on things that give you energy, not deplete it. Ex: Work you love, your kids, your hobby, music, being out in nature.

3. Pay attention to your feelings. Notice what sources increase stress, fear, or anxiety and minimize your exposure to them wherever possible. To positively counteract them, make the effort to spend time doing the things that make you feel happier. It might take more effort to go for a walk or play a game with your family than sit on the couch binge-watching a violent tv show. However, the physiological and psychological benefits are more than worth it.

4. Focus on immune system support. Increase your attention and action on common sense things that boost your immune system – eating healthy foods, drinking good water, enjoying fun movement/exercise, getting good sleep, meditating.

5. Research holistic support. If you prefer using natural products for your health and home cleaning, research essential oils such as eucalyptus, tea tree oil, and lavender which have antibacterial and antiviral properties. Being educated in both allopathic (traditional medicine) and holistic therapies provides a wider complement of resources to draw from.

6. Spend time with loved ones. If someone is sick, you can limit infection exposure and still help boost your immune systems by using facetime, the marco polo app or video conferencing with them. Seeing and hearing each other supports the restorative side of the nervous system (texting does not).

 7. Be mindful of your influence on others. Pay attention to what you’re saying. Is what you're sharing empowering you both or is it fueling fear or a sense of helplessness? It’s kinder to say nothing than to spread fear. If overwhelm is causing you to spew on others, reach out and ask for the support you need.

8. Empower Others. Help stop fear-based misinformation from spreading. If you see people in your home, work or social environment reacting from fear, support them by kindly sharing facts and in taking positive action steps to do their part and then focus on the good aspects of their lives.

With every challenge humanity faces, we learn valuable lessons and develop new tools. By understanding and utilizing the power of the body/mind to draw on the higher aspects of ourselves, we tap into our greatest resource to be our best selves while we overcome our challenges together.  

[1] The Polyvagal Theory, Steven Porges, PhD


About the Author: Kathleen Gramzay

Kathleen Gramzay, BCTMB is Body/Mind Performance Expert, 20-yr Board Certified Massage Therapist, and Developer of Kinessage® Self Care and Mindful Resilience.  Her mission is to empower people to release their stress, chronic tension & pain to live more joyful, productive and healthy lives.   If you would like to learn more about Kinessage® Self-Care or the Mindful Resilience programs, contact Kathleen