Anxiety over COVID-19 can weaken your immune system

coronavirus testing
Posted at 3:56 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 12:10:11-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Could your anxiety over the coronavirus pandemic actually make you sick?

Experts say those who feel sustained stress day in and day out can weaken their immune systems. Too much of the fight or flight hormone could make you more susceptable to illness including COVID-19.

And, you are probably thinking, " Great, something else to worry about?" Well, don't.

But there are a few things to think about if you are stressing out over the coronavirus.

"Depression and fatigue is a very real and expected thing to come out of the quarantine and does effect your overall health," said Dr. Calvin Smith at Meharry Medical College.

He is one of the supervisors for COVID-19 testing in Metro-Nashville. Dr. Smith sees the stress in patients he works with on a daily basis -- and he says that's completely natural under the circumstances.

"With the patients I've been seeing lately I always end every session with a check in on how their mindset is going, and how they are dealing with everything being isolated."

The mental aspect -- dealing with depression -- is challenging enough. But Dr. Smith said for some the stress can become all consuming creating potential physical concerns.

"It's not normal to live this way."

In moments of extreme stress Dr. Smith said the human body releases the hormone cortisol -- responsible for the fight or flight reaction. That's an important tool for survival.

But, in extreme cases, like during this pandemic, people might feel that way for days. Smith said that much cortisol can actually weaken the immune system making it more susceptible to viruses and bacteria.

"What happens when that cortisol is up high all the time it effects the access of the other hormones and chemicals in your body and overstresses them," said Dr. Smith.

Here's the problem: Most people can't just shut off worry. But, there are things you can do. Dr. Smith said to reach out to family or friends by Zoom, Skype or phone ... and talk about it.

Find the things that help you relax ... a warm bath or music ... anything to take your mind off COVID-19.

Dr. Smith says in some case there are those who will need more. That's when you seek the help of a medical professional for counseling and possibly medications to help with anxiety.


See all our coronavirus coverage here


What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.