Coronavirus, Stress and PTSD

“The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast

. . . As the present now will later be past

The order is rapidly fading

And the first one now will later be last

For the times they are a-changin [1].”

RESET Therapy Training

Among those ordered to stay at home, anxiety is prevalent as the unknown and feared intruder extends its infectious grasp. There is no longer any scientific doubt that repeated or chronic stress triggers inflammation in the body and brain [2]. Indeed, as an example, the current helpline calls for Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) are up by 25% during the ongoing epidemic.

“As families across the globe hunker down, there's another less obvious threat that is just as dangerous -- the potential spike in domestic violence as victims spend days and nights trapped at home with their abusers. For many, tensions are rising, there's nowhere to escape, and they have limited or no access to friends or relatives and no idea when it will end.” [3]

Stress can disrupt our ability to differentiate between rational and emotionally-based thinking. We have previously referred to this matter as a ‘top-down, bottom-up’ phenomenon. More specifically, survival reactivity emanating from the human brain’s limbic system becomes prominent over the Executive Functioning ability of the Frontal Lobes. How else do we explain people hoarding toilet paper? [4].

Another feature of stress is the disruption of sleep, which consequently weakens the immune system.

“Everybody knows that a night of tossing and turning can leave you feeling groggy, crabby, and listless. But did you know that chronic sleep deprivation, or even a single restless night, can also negatively impact systemic inflammation and the immune system? . . . A study showed conclusively that in healthy adults who were limited to 6 hours of sleep a night for one week, there was a change in their gene activity profile relative to when those same individuals were getting a full 8 hours of sleep a night. A total of 711 genes were distorted in their activity, caused by a lack of sleep. About half of those genes were actually increased in their activity, while the other half were decreased.” [5]

“The genes that were switched off by a lack of sleep were genes associated with the immune system (which indicated an increased risk of infection). In contrast, those genes whose activity levels were increased by way of a lack of sleep were genes associated with the promotion of tumors, long-term inflammation, stress, and—as a result—cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, stroke, dementia, and other conditions directly associated with inflammation.” [5]

Chronic inflammation can produce numerous health problems that include diabetes and heart complications [6]. Chronic stress can also be a precursor to varied anxiety issues, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. [7] The stress/inflammatory factor appears to also be a central issue in depressive conditions. [8]

Brain functioning is generally protected from the rest of the body by a blood-brain barrier. However, with repeated or chronic stress, the barrier can become leaky, permitting inflammation to penetrate. [9] In particular, the Hippocampal region of the brain is particularly vulnerable regarding a weakening in the functions of learning and memory. A recent inquiry into these factors at Stanford University has found that stress can alter our ability to utilize our memory in the decision-making process.

“We draw on memory not just to project ourselves backward into the past but to project ourselves forward, to plan . . . Stress can rob you of the ability to draw on cognitive systems underlying memory and goal-directed behavior that enable you to solve problems more quickly, more efficiently and more effectively.” [10]