Minding Covid: a Different Story

May 17, 2020 Z - Covid No Comments

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The human mind is missing in the causal story of Covid. Putting it in place makes a Different Story. This is a story about a virus, but even more is it a story about humankind.

 

NOTE: If you are searching for the ‘AURELIS Acute Stress app,’ you can click on this link towards ‘an app to support.

 

Where is the human mind in the causal story of Covid? It is not in the media, nor the scientific literature. It is not in the minds of most people. Of course, there is a lot of talk about mind in consequence: the loneliness, the aggression, the depression, the immediate and post-traumatic stress. This will become even more so after the first shockwave of disease when we get into a prolonged presence of Covid in small and less small waves. In the causal story, we don’t see it momentarily.

And yet these are certainties:

  • The immune system plays a significant role in the causal story of Covid-progression in any individual.
  • The mind plays a significant role in immune reactions – and other defense mechanisms.

Straightforwardly, the mind should be at the center stage. Then why is it invisible in the causal storytelling? Part of the answer is mundane: precisely because. One cannot see it because it is the thing with which is being seen. Even when opening the skull, one cannot see the mind. When looking at the world, we actually see only its interaction with our mind. Thus, to be more precise, we are partly looking at mind all the time. Yet we have a hard time seeing things this way. Ironically, this blinds us for our blindness. It blinds us for our own capabilities.

The invisibility in any kind of media is unfortunate. With a virus wreaking havoc in the present and near-future, we should call all hands on deck. Yet there is an utter silence regarding mind. How come? Besides being visibly invisible, there are two rather underlying long-time reasons why mind does not enter the causal story:

  1. the wrongful supposition that body and mind are two distinct entities

So, how would the ephemeral mind be able to influence the material body?

>< Mind and body are two ways of looking at the same thing.

  1. the wrongful supposition that mind only exists in conscious awareness.

So, how would the conscious mind be able to influence the body? This seems like a two-dimensions-distance this way.

>< Every conscious thought, feeling, motivation is the result of non-conscious processing.

Both suppositions, at least in a stark formulation, flourished from the mind of the French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650). They were signs of coming times. Both ideas have thoroughly influenced Western culture, including modern medicine. Meanwhile, science has shown with utmost certainty that both suppositions are wrong. But getting beyond them comes at a hugely meaningful cost to the individual (especially in mere-ego), respectively:

  1. This means that together with the death of the body comes the end of mind as we know it. Note that this is not necessarily related to the ‘soul.’ What we know is that the mind changes with the body and dies with the body.
  2. This means that ‘conscious free will’ is mainly an illusion. A lot of non-conscious meaningful stuff is at the origin of any of our thoughts, feelings, motivations.

Both costs can provoke a lot of anxiety, which contributes to why they are vehemently shunned. On the other side, one can look at the refutations of the presuppositions from a positive viewpoint. Again, respectively:

  1. The mind can be used to work on better health, including that of the body. There is a lot of therapeutic potential in this. We have only scraped at the surface.
  2. There is a lot of potential for inner growth. The mind is much broader than is generally conceived. This growth can be human-potential-oriented, as in art, in-depth communication, coaching. Here still lies a lot to be done.

Because of the – untoward – invisibility and the above suppositions (together with money and status issues), it is daring for anyone to come forward with the idea that the mind is deeply involved in the huge catastrophe that is befalling to big parts of the world. An additional danger is that people may push all kinds of unscientific ideas about mind in this respect. Coming forward with mind-as-cause will, to many, also link the one who rationally does so with those doing so from weirdest hypotheses. We can better be prepared and bring science at its best. Only top-notch science – taking into account the total person in a realistic manner – can save us from a swamp of absurdity. This is a shared responsibility.

To see the unity of body and mind, one needs to see that this is not merely related to conscious awareness. For instance, I cannot choose to blush by conscious decision. Yet something meaningful happens, and I may blush. The meaning is mind-related. The blushing is visible in my body.

Of course, the impact of what is meaning-related goes much deeper than the skin. In an acute meaningful situation, my blood pressure may rise, my autonomic nervous system shows many complex reactions. Also, my brain reacts in a myriad of ways, sending more blood to this part, abstaining from that part. Neurotransmitters and other brain messenger molecules get into a complex intermingle. My body influences my brain and vice versa.

This is about acute meaningfulness. Anyone may experience the consequences. In a chronic situation, it is more challenging to see body-mind-unity. Especially in experimental science, it is much harder to pinpoint. There is the complexity of the ever-changing situation, as well as of body and mind, and dynamic meaningfulness. What something meant to me yesterday does not necessarily mean the same tomorrow. What is stressing (or not) also changes with meaningfulness.

Yet, even so, we doubtlessly know that chronic stress can have a detrimental influence on the immune system and chronic inflammation. Logically, this paves the way for a worse outcome in case of any acute superposition. The chronic stress has weakened the person. The acute gives a blow that sometimes cannot be handled. A subsequent illness from a viral infection, even death, can be the result.

The mind significantly influences the body in sickness and healing, in ways that are relevant in times of Covid.  We know scientifically that mental stress can lead to chronic or acute inflammation, even provoking instant death as in the case of the heart disease ‘takotsubo’ [1]. In dermatology, we clearly see the acute and chronic effects of mental stress on skin diseases [2]. Of course, what we see at the outside happens likewise at the inside. Mental stress influence on lung tissue inflammation has also been described. Rings a bell?

A few quotes from PubMed (top scientific medical journal) articles might be intriguing to you:

  • The studies summarized in this review indicate that there are important linkages between anxiety and depression and viral diseases such as influenza A (H1N1) and other influenza viruses, varicella-zoster virus, herpes simplex virus, human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and hepatitis C.“ [3]
  • The present report meta-analyzes more than 300 empirical articles describing a relationship between psychological stress and parameters of the immune system in human participants. Acute stressors (lasting minutes) were associated with potentially adaptive upregulation of some parameters of natural immunity and downregulation of some functions of specific immunity. Brief naturalistic stressors (such as exams) tended to suppress cellular immunity while preserving humoral immunity. Chronic stressors were associated with suppression of both cellular and humoral measures.” [4]
  • Cortisol also showed a continuous association with duration of viral shedding, an indicator of viral replication and continuing infection, such that higher cortisol concentrations predicted more days of shedding.” [5]
  • Both aging processes and psychological stress affect the immune system: Each can dysregulate immune function with a potentially substantial impact on physical health. Worse, the effects of stress and age are interactive.” [6]
  • Stress-induced immune dysregulation has been shown to be significant enough to result in health consequences, including reducing the immune response to vaccines, slowing wound healing, reactivating latent herpesviruses, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), and enhancing the risk for more severe infectious disease.” [7]
  • Importantly, we concluded that nocebo studies outline how individual expectations may lead to physiological changes underpinning the central integration and processing of magnified pain signaling.” [8]
  • Stress is an external factor known to be a potent exacerbator of respiratory infections. Most explanations of how stress affects susceptibility to airway infections focus on the immune system. However, evidence is increasing that respiratory pathogens are equally responsive to the hormonal output of stress.” [9]
  • Media reports about the adverse effects of supposedly hazardous substances can increase the likelihood of experiencing symptoms following sham exposure and developing an apparent sensitivity to it.” [10]

These are just a few examples. Moreover, we have scientifically started to look with special scanners into the brain and deeper mind, as nicely described, for instance, by David Eagleman [11]. We have scientifically started seeing it happen. Then why – in any causal sense – is the mind, let alone deeper mind, nowhere in the news, while the virus is everywhere in the news?

Of course, even more broadly, non-conscious processing is little in sight. Yet be honest: where does any of your spontaneous thoughts come from? Not from the sky, not from sheer coincidence. It can only come from your deeper mind. To see this, you just need to stretch your arm. Look at your thumbnail. This is the area that you see in focus in any normal circumstance. Yet typically, it seems like everything is in focus. This is an illusion. Likewise, you may think that you can have everything in your mind in conscious focus. That is also an illusion. Most of it, you principally never have in focus. Meanwhile, it is there, and it determines you in many ways, including your immune system. Thus:

Concerning Covid-19 (the disease, not the infection): the mind may be considerably important, alongside the virus, in its cause as well as proper management.

A short sentence, an immense implication.

Science is unmistakable. Mind can and does play a significant role in viral-disease-progression. Thus, most probably also in the present case. In the future, to deny this may be looked upon as a crime. Taking it into account at present can alleviate a lot of health suffering and economic hardship. This does not banalize what is happening. On the contrary, we should stop banalizing our mind. To do so, we need to get beyond the above suppositions. That takes courage. The reward – as a society, worldwide – is immense.

What probably happens in Covid-progression is that the immune system responds too late, then over-shoots and with a lot of inflammatory reaction. Many deaths are the result of the latter. Here, things fit together. The virus attacks and lets itself be replicated like crazy in the short term. The person gets very contagious, transmitting the virus before the immune response comes like a thunderbolt. When it comes, it may kill the person, but: transmission completed. The virus has found this – by happenstance, of course – as its niche. This niche is hugely stress-related, not the stress of a simple stress-o-meter score but of deep meaningfulness. Remember the body-mind-unity and the impact of chronic meaningfulness. An additional problem is: We have a body made for acute stress and a mind that provokes chronic stress in circumstances and interpretations, regularly ruminating and projecting all kinds of stressful thoughts.  This makes us vulnerable. On the other side, we can use our complex minds in many positive ways.

Now let’s go into the science about ‘mind on corona.’ Optimistically, I went for a search on PubMed on 18 March 2020. Searching for ‘COVID’ and ‘coronavirus’ separately. Note that ‘coronavirus’ also comprises SARS and MERS, separate from COVID-19. The results were as follows:

Search term Number of articles found
COVID/coronavirus psychosocial 0
COVID/coronavirus depression 0
COVID/coronavirus social stress 0
COVID/coronavirus psychological 0
COVID/coronavirus psychology 0
COVID/coronavirus mental 0

Also, nothing related that I could think of. The whole domain doesn’t look mind-related because no one mentions it. Therefore, no one mentions it. Yet, other research is more than clear. This includes – crucial to the present case of COVID – unmistakable proof of influence of psychosocial stress on immuno-inflammatory mechanisms as measured in saliva and in the blood.

Scientifically studied mental factors influencing immunology include chronic stress, depression, anxiety, aggression, social deprivation, mourning, a feeling of powerlessness, and uncertainty. Scientific data support all of these influences, clearly, firmly, and robustly. Note that they are all familiar factors in recent times. They are all intensified by lockdown. We have a mental situation that conduces to sharpen the progression of Covid. With more proper distinctions being made in mental factors, the future is bound to show more. Of course, that this does not mean that we should lessen social distancing for as long as needed. At least, we need to bring it about with proper motivation.

These insights can help us see Covid not as a disease singly caused by a virus but a whirlpool of factors in which the virus ‘only’ plays an important role. This makes one more sensitive to how and why other factors can better be handled. Our own complexity (mind – immune – inflammation) is also present in the whirlpool. Being singularly focused on the ‘virus as enemy’ makes us blind to the whirlpool. The virus is inside it, as are panicky thoughts and many meaningful elements. Even the readiness for ‘waging war against the virus,’ if mingled with aggressive undertones, can be a nasty element in the whirlpool. It is cause and consequence, as is the whirlpool itself. As the only element, the virus would possibly not be very energetic in this whirlpool. But combine it with much harmful mental content, and the whole may grab you, then make you ill and eventually kill. Yet from outside the whirlpool, only the virus is visible to many. That is an illusion. A patient who gets into the whirlpool bears the consequences. Before getting stuck in it, not much may be needed to keep out. When inside, the mind may be used to avoid worse.

This does not demean the worthy actions of caregivers. On the contrary, it highlights their immense importance as human beings on top of medical expertise. Moreover, it may relieve their burden in several ways. Caregivers and patients work together, as ‘brothers in arms.’ They fight for health and healing, not simply against an invisible demon. Secondly, caregivers too may work on not getting in the whirlpool. They are a population at risk, of course. This way, patient and caregiver share experiences. Thirdly, if people can present getting into the whirlpool, this is good for everybody. Fourthly, every patient who recovers is a source of joy for the caregivers too. It all makes their work more rewarding.

Mind over Covid: the Different Story is at first place a different view upon ourselves. For humanity, this transcends the present disaster. We see several crises getting worse over the years and in many domains. We rave about politics, economics, divides of many kinds. In all domains, the prime divide is internal: between who we consciously think we are and who we really are. We may fill this divide like filling with mud (such as the two wrongful suppositions) many cracks in a house while the house itself is falling apart. It takes a storm to show this more clearly, but the storm is not initially causing it. The internal divide makes one look for any externality – the enemy of any kind, the bad guys, the threatening ones, the not-us-and-therefore-them, the storms themselves – as explanations for what we don’t see because it’s invisible.

Are most people ready for the necessary insight? Probably not, and that is scary. It’s also a pity, but there is no time for a most gentle slope toward readiness. Also, part of the problem is the non-readiness itself. Waiting for the solution to tackle the problem, will never solve the problem. So better work on it continuously, including now, even while it may be said that “there is no time to waste in a battle against the virus.” That seems to be like going to war without any personal protection because “there is no time to waste.” That is just a silly thing to do.

People are not machines. They are in-depth treated too much as such in medicine, in clinical psychology, in economics, in everything human-related. As a result, we are stuck in a pseudo-rationalized world. We have lost nature-within-ourselves. The virus didn’t come to show us so. It just found a niche, created by us. This can also attract other mishaps. Is this an inconvenient message? Yes. So, will we need to see in hindsight of Covid that we have again been looking past ourselves on the way towards a next disaster? Humanity should have progressed further. This is a failure and, above all, not to be continued. We need to get to know ourselves. Covid is but a part of the reason why. In our ever more complex world, there will be more and harsher reasons. And indeed, they are already present or in the make. For instance, a pandemic of depression and burnout. Or, for example, a future of Compassion-less A.I. We should not forget how quickly this Covid-wave came out of the blue sky. Let’s learn the deeper lesson, not in the sense of “This or that should be done,” but an invitation to live this life profoundly. The Different Story may still be a beautiful one. This is about the human being who gets to know oneself as total person.

 

_

An app to support

You may have read ‘Minding Covid: a Different Story’ and found out the broader why. In view of this, one may ask what can be done at the individual level. For this, I have created an app containing mental exercises and supportive information. The present content of this app is for free forever for everyone. How it works: It doesn’t. At least not in the way of some medication, which it isn’t. It would be mind-boggling to see it or use it that way. This said, you can see it – and any AURELIS session – as a key to the door that leads to your own Inner Strength. I write these two words with capitals not because there is something supernatural involved. On the contrary, it is very natural: nature within you. In many situations, including Covid, this may diminish the negative strength of the whirlpool. This may be enough to either not get caught in it, or heighten the chance to get out of it with less damage. Theoretically, it may be life-saving. Of course, it needs to be said that as yet, no experimental research has been performed in this vein, due to an absurd lack of resources.

 

You find it as Aurelis in app stores (soon).

Momentarily, you can download it on your android smartphone using this link:

https://aurelis.org/assets/common/appfiles/app-release.apk

For this, you need to temporarily ‘allow installations of apps from unknown sources’ at download or in ‘settings’.

NOTE: Within the app, swiping from left to right brings you to the table of contents.

We are still in the testing phase. Any feedback is welcome!

 

References

  • [1] Dawson DK. Acute stress-induced (takotsubo) cardiomyopathy. Heart. 2018;104(2):96–102.
  • [2] Marshall C, Taylor R, Bewley A. Psychodermatology in Clinical Practice: Main Principles. Acta Derm Venereol. 2016;96(217):30–34.
  • [3] Coughlin SS. Anxiety and Depression: Linkages with Viral Diseases. Public Health Rev. 2012;34(2):92.
  • [4] Segerstrom SC, Miller GE. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychol Bull. 2004;130(4):601–630.
  • [5] Janicki-Deverts D, Cohen S, Turner RB, Doyle WJ. Basal salivary cortisol secretion and susceptibility to upper respiratory infection. Brain Behav Immun. 2016;53:255–261.
  • [6] Graham JE, Christian LM, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress, age, and immune function: toward a lifespan approach. J Behav Med. 2006;29(4):389–400. doi:10.1007/s10865-006-9057-4.
  • [7] Godbout JP, Glaser R. Stress-induced immune dysregulation: implications for wound healing, infectious disease and cancer. J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2006;1(4):421–427.
  • [8] Blasini M, Corsi N, Klinger R, Colloca L. Nocebo and pain: An overview of the psychoneurobiological mechanisms. Pain Rep. 2017;2(2):e585.
  • [9] Stover CM. Mechanisms of Stress-Mediated Modulation of Upper and Lower Respiratory Tract Infections. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2016;874:215–223.
  • [10] Witthöft M, Rubin GJ. Are media warnings about the adverse health effects of modern life self-fulfilling? An experimental study on idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF). J Psychosom Res. 2013;74(3):206–212.
  • [11] Eagleman D. The Brain: The Story of You. Canongate Books Ltd, Edinburgh, GB 2015.
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