Combatting Pandemic-Induced Compression

August 19, 2020
If your car engine compression is too high, it will cause the engine to misfire, knock and ping. Over time, high compression will wear down the pistons, burn oil, injure the O-rings, seals, and gaskets.
Pandemic-induced constant compression on us is taking its toll. I see it clinically every day:  poor sleep, some have no appetite, others are overeating. Previously healthy habits like going to the local gym are being replaced by watching the news. The daily onslaught of news information that is filtered and biased depending on its origin is causing high-intensity compression on our brain. This is raising our cortisol and adrenalin levels, which causes our heart rates to be higher, our fingers to feel cold and sweaty, it changes our gut microbiome and this, directly and indirectly, impairs our immune system. Our protective T-cell and B-cell functions decline and now we are more vulnerable to disease and deterioration.
The news that is 24/7 is designed to tease you into watching and keep watching.  Scary news gets our attention quickly, it’s like candy for our brain, inducing fear.  Some become hyper-vigilant and keep watching, strengthening the harmful cycle. One might ask, can you even trust the news as accurate and true?  This constant compression for many ultimately leads to agitation, restlessness, depression, and anger.

Daily fear-laden news is contributing to the compression on our brains, fear activates the amygdala that integrates with our hippocampus and causes changes in our limbic system. The limbic system helps control emotions and memory, it regulates autonomic and endocrine function in response to emotional stimuli. The limbic system depression causes sadness, anger, hopelessness, repetitive negative thinking, etc.

What is the solution? 
Well if your head hurts because you’re banging it against a wall….stop banging your head against the wall.  This avoids a cold slap in the face every day by the news that states “Breaking news: COVID-19 positive cases reach all-time high”. Well of course they have, we are becoming very efficient at testing, and we expect the number of positive cases to increase. Remember, up to 50% of the people who are COVID+ are asymptomatic. We do, of course, have a significant public health problem; now more than ever we understand the biology of COVID-19.
What do we do now? 
We must continue to respect the virus.  Wear your face mask properly in public places, wash your hands frequently, keep at least 6 feet of distance, avoid groups greater than 10 people. We must continue to use our best efforts to protect our vulnerable, particularly people over 60 years old or with co-morbidities such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, lung disease, and patients who are getting therapies that affect their immune system.  In addition, we need to take care of ourselves, getting good nutrition, adequate sleep, an appropriate amount of exercise, and controlling our stress.
Harry Oken, M.D.
Medical Director for the Columbia Association
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