Underlying these stress-induced changes are hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol that can cause trouble if they persist too long in our circulation. Sustained anxiety increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, clinical depression and, ironically, infectious diseases like Covid-19 by weakening the immune response to a viral infection.
“The stress of Covid-19 is now acute, but if it persists long after April, which it likely will, it will take an enormous toll on world health,” Mr. Ropeik said.
Thus, in addition to heeding the recommended personal precautions to avoid an infection, people feeling unduly stressed about the pandemic might try to minimize the damage caused by unmitigated anxiety.
A psychotherapist I know has advised his patients to limit their exposure to the news and discussions about Covid-19 to one hour a day and, if possible, in only one location, then use the rest of the day and other parts of the home for productive or pleasurable activities.
You can bolster positive feelings by doing something good — for your neighbors, the essential workers in your community, or strangers now lacking adequate resources to care for themselves or their families. I’ve gone through closets and bagged tons of clothing to give to those in need, and I’ve contributed to a GoFundMe site that is raising money to provide meals for workers at the neighborhood hospital, which also helps support local restaurants now limited to takeout only. There are similar donation sites now throughout the world.
You can also tackle long-neglected chores in and around home. Some ideas: Clean out the refrigerator or pantry, take the stove apart and wash everything down, repair torn clothing (including socks!), go through bookshelves and pack up books not worth keeping that you read long ago or that are now out of date.
And pay attention to leaders like New York’s Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who has emphasized that the most critical step in countering the damage wrought by this novel virus is to flatten the curve of rising infections, both to keep from overwhelming our health care systems and to buy time to develop more effective strategies and, hopefully, therapies.