For Now, Behavior is the Key

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“There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors”, said Dr. Deborah Brix of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. “Each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic, over the next 30 days.”

The current crisis brings into sharp focus the limitations our health systems in fighting any new, stealth, and lethal virus. Behavioral intervention is not one of traditional medicine’s strengths––reflected in Medscape authors’ use of the term “non-pharmaceutical intervention” to describe social distancing.

While pharmaceutical treatments are being developed, the “behavioral immune system” and lifestyle interventions that support natural immunity are the key

The new virus is highly contagious, transmitted through the air, from those who are asymptomatic––estimated to be up to 50%. Since the virus may avoid our usual pathogen detection, efforts have been to raise our conscious awareness. Heightening this behavioral immune system–so we learn to automatically wash our hands, resist touching our eyes, or take three steps back from another–is becoming the new normal.

A second avenue of behavioral intervention is to support the innate immune system for individuals. Evidence is also mounting that the new virus might somehow bypass the innate immune defenses in some, or suppress immunity, an especially dangerous issue for older people and those younger people with deficiencies.

Self-care behaviors for natural immunity involve many lifestyle factors. One example is food choice. The immune system needs adequate vitamins A, B, C, K, Zinc and sunshine for D. Too much sugar, alcohol or caffeine is detrimental to the immune system, as is any amount smoking at all. Exercise boosts growth hormone and that enhances immunity. Lowering emotional stress supports immune functions. One of best and cheapest behavioral interventions for everyone is a simple and pleasant behavior–sleep. Yet, many in the U.S. don’t get their needed dose.

We have a myriad of ideas and methods for supporting the behavioral immune system and behaviors that increase the innate immune defenses. Even a 10% change in some aspect or another might be the difference between a person going to the hospital or staying out. For this special issue we cover topics for sleep, stress, and music, ideas for dealing with the pandemic and how psychology can help.

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