Fear and the Immune System

What is the definition of fear? Arthur J. Westermayr, in his book The Psychology of Fear, states that “fear is the great force that prompts to acts of self-preservation and operates as effectively in the brute as in the human animal” (p. 250). Self-preservation, well-rooted in the ‘survival of the fittest’ instinct, is the biological foundation of fear. If our life is at risk, our body responds to enable us to remove or flee the immediate threat. As the human race has developed, fear has adapted from being physically survival-based into spiritually, or mentally-based. Religion began the spread of mentally-based fear through its threats of an afterlife in a burning inferno if man did not live righteously, as well as promoting a fear of punishment if one strayed from the conventional laws of society. Westermayr explains that fear of public condemnation from one’s community has sufficient power to cause man to “refrain from the pursuit of desires” (p. 251). In this way we may avoid a desired action due to a potential disciplinary action from our family, friends, government, or even society. But who dictates the laws of society?

Ruben Enikolopov and Maria Petrova, in their article ‘Mass media and its influence on behaviour’ write that the “mass media is a major source of information for the majority of the population” (p.1) and it has an astounding ability to shape public opinion and hence the conventional laws of society. This leads us to the question ‘who is priming the media with information?’ There have been many investigations into the truthfulness of the information the media provide. For example, Vladimiro Montesinos, a chief of secret police in Peru, was investigated for paying bribes to “different actors, such as politicians, judges, and the heads of media outlets” (p.11) in exchange for selecting information for the media to air, which resulted in bringing an end to Fujimori’s regime. This is not the only example of someone influencing the media, “often politicians and other interested parties have incentives to influence the media” (p.1). The government have a strong grip on media content and “if the government cannot perfectly control all information available in the public sphere…it can use a different censorship strategy and engage in selective deletion of information” (p.31). “In addition to censoring unwanted content, government can distort the content of social media by fabricating posts” (p.32), so how is it possible to know if the media reports useful information or just information that they want us to know, in order to shape our society?

By examining past media content it is obvious that it supplies continuous threats to the survival of mankind with narratives such as global warming, wars, and highly infectious fatal diseases. These reports are backed by figures, diagrams, and charts of increasing numbers of fatalities due to current and future dangers. This negative information is repeatedly rammed into the public’s awareness. Reported threats to our survival are mostly followed by daily, confusing and contradictive, guidelines or advice. For example, 2020’s toilet paper shortage. If nobody watched the news, nobody would have bought extra toilet paper and the stocks would not have been affected. Enikolopov states that “the effect of media will be stronger when receivers are less certain about the truth” (p.3), so keeping the public in a state of confusion and panic allows an easier transition of their preferred agenda.

Government lockdown measures limit the ability to get the truth from social interactions so an alternate source of information then becomes social media. “Social media plays an increasingly important role as a source of information…[as] it allows for large number of users to converse directly without intermediaries at a very low cost” (Enikolopov, p.25). But we have recently seen large amounts of censorship on social media, so it is impossible to even verify that content.

Germaine Bovell-Pitt defines a bully as a “harasser of the weak” (qtd. p. 37), an individual or group of people who use repeated actions of physical and/or psychological harm. Psychological harm can include fearful threats, harassment, excluding someone from a setting, or bossing them around (p. 67). The victims of bullying have a “higher prevalence in low-income countries [which] may be a result of low income risk factors such as poverty” (p. 39). In this way, the media and their bombardment of fear inducing reports along with the government’s poverty-inducing lockdowns are causing psychological harm on their audience. This psychological bullying “is labelled as a stressor by the cerebral cortex” (Khan, p. 1) and activates the sympathetic adreno-medullary (SAM) system. A fight or flight response “stimulates the adrenal medulla to secrete catecholamine (epinephrine and norepinephrine). The combined effect of the two produces an aroused bodily system i.e. high blood pressure, sweating, palpitation, constriction of blood vessels etc.” (Khan, p. 1). “The immune system is critical for human health and well-being, as it helps coordinate the body’s response to physical injuries and infections” (Reed, p. 99). “The immune system [is] regulated by so many environmental factors, and especially by exposure to stressors” (Pariante, p. 102), such as fear-inducing information. Connect the dots; the media induces fear through bullying, the public suffer psychological harm and their immune system is kicked into action.

In Stress and the Immune System, by Reed and Raison, it is stated that “psychological stress occurs when events or environmental demands exceed an individual’s ability or willingness to cope” (Reed p. 98). They state that adopted patterns of thought can “generate a chronic perception that the world is dangerous” (p. 107) which can result in stress, kicking the immune system into an overworked state and therefore losing its functionality.  This loss of functionality can continue when we are subject to recurrent thoughts, information and/or images which provide negative influences (p. 107). Some examples of psychological stress include uncontrollable events, social rejection/isolation, or emotionally/physically harmful close relationships which “can dysregulate immune function” (p. 114).  “Stress exists on a spectrum from short-term or acute stress, lasting minutes to hours, to long-term or chronic stress, lasting weeks, months, or years” (Reed p. 99). Short-term stress causes the immune cells to redistribute themselves from the “spleen, bone marrow, and lymph nodes…to ultimately reside in target organs where an individual is most likely to be injured…[and] could be harmful if it exacerbates existing inflammatory or autoimmune diseases” (p. 106).

Our bodies have adapted over time to respond to “both psychological and physical stressors” (Reed p. 106).  Reed states that chronic or long-term stressors “are considered to be the most toxic” (p. 106) because they so often result in long-term changes to behaviour, emotional instability, and physiological issues, resulting in a less effective immune system, difficulty sleeping, and congestive heart failure, “an immune-related disease” (Reed p. 115). This can be “demonstrated by their increased susceptibility to the common cold, impaired immune response to vaccination, and delayed healing after standardized wound inductions” (Reed p. 106). Reed states that “cortisol is the quintessential stress hormone with multiple effects that enhance the fight-or-flight response… Cortisol exerts major suppressive effects on the immune system…[it reduces] the number and activity of circulating inflammatory cells, inhibiting production of proinflammatory mediators…” (p. 103). Reed explains that chronic stress can create nonspecific inflammation as the “adrenal gland can get exhausted and therefore produce less cortisol… [leading] to decreased anti-inflammatory feedback” (p. 107) or the adrenal gland pumps out so much cortisol that the body becomes resistant to it. Depression then becomes the price to pay if our lives are continually subjected to conditions of stress (Pariante, p. 102).

Social rejection and isolation also have a major relationship with the functioning of our immune system (Reed, p. 115). “Research suggests that stressors involving social rejection and exclusion activate neural regions involved in processing negative affect…these neural regions activate multiple biological systems…which produce cortisol and catecholamines that can bind to receptors on immune cells, which then modulate the release of proinflammatory cytokines. Thus, social stress-related implications on the neurocognitive pathway….linking social threat and rejection with elevated inflammation and risk of depression” (Reed p. 116). While “social isolation, or loneliness, is another interpersonally-distressing state that dysregulates immune function… Social isolation has been related to downregulation of genes involved in antibody production and an upregulation of expressed genes involved in proinflammatory immune response (Reed p. 116).

Psychologically, a year of media-induced fear reporting and isolating lock downs are enough to send any member of the public into a chronic state of stress. But, if we were standing alone in a room with no technology, we could look around at all the items in that room. All the material items that have form are not anxious, depressed, or stressed, they are just emotionless. If there were pets in the room, they would be acting as they normally would. If we were to turn on the news, look at social media, or pick up a newspaper, we would instantly become bombarded with negative reports which would again increase our levels of anxiety and fear. Our pets are oblivious to the fear-mongering from the media, but it is having a detrimental effect on our health.

To cope with stress, Reed suggests that emotional processing can “lower inflammatory outcomes, which could promote more optimal health” (p. 109). This can be done by digesting the information gained throughout the day, rather than subjecting yourself to further information. You can start by switching off the television! If you are able to sit quietly, with no distractions, then allow your mind to focus on the emotionless forms around you. Look at a painting on the wall and appreciate it, or look at a plant. Notice how the things around you are not worked up by the media. If it is difficult to calm your mind, do a puzzle, draw a picture, walk in nature, learn a new skill, or read inspirational books or listen to uplifting music. “Findings suggest that exposure to animal-derived microbes might improve regulation of inflammation and so increase stress resilience” (Reed, p. 117), so being around animals will have a positive impact on our immunity. Finding a supportive group of individuals can “also promote healthy immune functioning and may be one way to mitigate the stressful effects of…other every-day stressors” (Reed, p. 114). Increase your intake of fish as Pariante suggests that “micronutrients associated with high levels of fish intake (polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFAs) are known to be both preventative and therapeutic in mild/moderate forms of depression” (p. 102)

 “The immune system is ‘programmed’ to remain hyperactive during the whole life as this confers protection from infections in a high-stress environment” (Pariante, p. 102), but this programming is reaching its limits in the world today and if we do not take positive action we are increasing our chances of eliminating our immunity. Your life is your own to live and you must take responsibility in making every moment a positive one.

References

Bovell-Pitt, Germaine. ‘The association between stress, psychological well-being and bullying in a Britain and Trinidad adolescent population’. University of Birmingham. May 2016.

Enikolopov, Ruben, and Petrova, Maria. ‘Mass media and its influence on behaviour’. Article 44. CREI. Barcelona Dec. 2017. https://crei.cat/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Opuscle-44_ENG.pdf Web. Apr. 12th, 2021

Khan, Sarah and Rafeeq. ‘Chronic Stress Leads to Anxiety and Depression’. Jan 27th, 2017. ISSN: 2374-0124. Ann Psychiatry Ment Health 5(1): 1091. Web. Apr. 12th, 2021

Pariante, C.M., ‘Neuroscience, mental health and the immune system’, Oct. 27th 2015, Brain-mind-body trichotomy. Cambridge University Press 2015. Web  https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/F52E595A0952FD74D770C7A463BAC771/S204579601500089Xa.pdf/neuroscience_mental_health_and_the_immune_system_overcoming_the_brainmindbody_trichotomy.pdf, Web. Apr. 4th, 2021

Reed, Rebecca G., and Raison, Charles L. Stress and the Immune System. 2016. Springer-Verlag Wien

Westermayr, Arthur J. (1915), The Psychology of Fear. The Open Court: Vol 1915 : Iss. 4, Article 5. https://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/ocj/vol1915/iss4/5

About the author

Clare Hinsley is a Doctor of Philosophy specializing in Metaphysical Counselling, earned through the University of Sedona, Arizona. She also holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Metaphysical Science from the University of Metaphysics.

Dr. Hinsley is an Ordained Metaphysical Minister with the ability to heal individuals and instil them with the confidence to deal with everyday life situations as they occur. Working with the positive spiritual energies, Dr. Hinsley achieves a pure, non-medicated, approach to healing addressing the root cause of the issue.  

Her interests lie in philosophies and practices from Eastern, Native American, Shamanic, ancient Egyptian, and Western origins.

Born in the UK, most of her childhood was spent in California before returning to the UK where she now resides in Wiltshire.

Dr. Hinsley is eager to promote the incredible benefits of Metaphysics. For more information, please see her website https://loosh.co.uk.

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