Stress and COVID-19—they seem to be a consistent pair these days, don’t they? If you're like most Americans, the odds are pretty high that you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and rather stressed at the moment. After all, with all the conflicting information out there, it's hard to know what to believe.
One minute the COVID-19 tests are accurate, but the next, they’re not. One minute the death rates are on the rise, but then you hear about how “reported” deaths aren’t “actual” deaths. You’re probably left wondering what that even means.
And one minute you hear that our children are safe and hardly impacted at all by this virus. But, the next, you’re hearing about “perfectly healthy” children dying suddenly and without warning. What in the world is actually going on?
Over the last several months, I’ve been watching and trying to get to the bottom of what’s happening in our country. Instead of following the media, I’ve been pouring over studies and scientific articles, trying to determine what’s really going on with this virus. Are there patterns? What’s the actual death rate? How dangerous is this virus for our children?
And, finally, I’ve been trying to get more scientific proof on something I’ve known all along—a biological process I’ve believed in since my days in medical school. In fact, it’s the very basis for my entire philosophy as a doctor: Stress is the root cause for many of our modern health concerns. But even more importantly, stress can exacerbate our symptoms!
So, does stress worsen not only our overall health, but also the very viral respiratory symptoms of which we’re so frightened right now? The short answer is: Yes, it does!
Given all that’s been happening, you may have already started to notice the connection between stress and COVID-19. And you know what? You aren’t wrong.
Believe it or not, brand-new science is showing there's an unmistakable link between stress relief and less severe COVID-19 symptoms! And I'm breaking down that science for you in this article and explaining the one thing you need to start doing NOW! It's probably the one piece of information you haven't heard but arguably the most important. So, let’s dive in.
Did you know that chronic stress is one of the top three factors that increase your risk of becoming ill after being exposed to viral respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19? It may be hard to believe, but it's true.
Now scientists are suggesting that these findings could actually help identify who becomes ill when exposed to the virus responsible for COVID-19!
In fact, researchers in an article published on July 8, 2020 stated that they “cautiously suggest that our findings could have implications for identifying who becomes ill when exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus responsible for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
Take a look at the top three risk factors the researchers identified for those more likely to become sick with a viral respiratory illness such as COVID-19 after exposure: chronic psychological stress, low vitamin C levels, and smoking. 
Given what we know about each of these factors, it really isn’t all that shocking that each of them would increase your risk of catching a viral respiratory illness. Why? Well, each risk factor is linked back to stress, as are so many other serious illnesses today—including the major comorbidities associated with COVID-19 complications: obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.
So, let’s take a look at the three risk factors identified by the researchers and get a better understanding about the relationship between stress and COVID-19.
First, chronic psychological stress has been shown to increase both your cholesterol and your blood pressure.  In fact, studies have shown that those who experience more psychological stress are 21 percent more likely to have high blood pressure! 
Why is this important? Well, along with diabetes and obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure) is known to increase your risk of COVID-19 complications. Moreover, numerous studies have shown that psychological stress significantly increases your chances of catching upper respiratory infections. [4, 5, 6]
Now, here’s the kicker: Psychological stress is proven to increase cortisol levels in your body. (Remember, cortisol is the hormone released by your adrenal glands during times of stress.) And now, a brand-new study has found that higher stress levels are associated with a greater risk of death from COVID-19!
In a study published in June 2020, researchers followed 535 adults admitted to hospitals for COVID-19 symptoms between March and April. Approximately 400 patients tested positive.
Within 48 hours of admission, the patients’ cortisol levels were measured and their histories were recorded. The researchers discovered that over 47 percent of the patients had hypertension, while 39.7 percent had diabetes and 23.3 percent had cardiovascular disease.
Incredibly, the researchers found that those with the highest cortisol levels (indicating greater stress) had a greater mortality risk than those with lower cortisol levels. In fact, patients whose cortisol concentration doubled were 42 percent more likely to die from COVID-19! 
Now let’s look at the second risk factor: low vitamin C levels. Did you know that the most common symptom of low vitamin C levels is actually fatigue?  Given that feelings of overwhelm and fatigue are two of the most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue (the very syndrome that results from never-ending stress), this makes vitamin C a very important nutrient for those under chronic stress.
But why is that? Well, simply put, your adrenal glands, which are responsible for controlling your body’s stress response, need vitamin C to function properly. And studies have actually shown that people with high levels of vitamin C don’t show many of the typical mental and physical signs of stress.
In fact, they actually report feeling less stressed and even bounce back from stressful situations and acute illnesses faster than people with low levels of vitamin C! 
Moreover, vitamin C has been shown to support immune function, decrease psychological stress, and reduce the severity of viral respiratory infections. In fact, according a 2013 meta-analysis of 30 trials involving 11,350 participants, the participants reduced their risk of getting a viral respiratory infection by 50 percent when they took 200 mg of vitamin C daily. 
Finally, while it isn’t a peer-reviewed study, there’s a case study published on July 25, 2020 that warrants being mentioned. In the case study, a 74-year-old woman who tested positive for COVID-19 and showed signs of pneumonia was admitted to the hospital. Her labwork revealed elevated inflammatory markers as well.
Though she was given oral hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, she developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and septic shock. She was placed on a ventilator and administered vitamin C intravenously. The doctors saw quick improvement and she was taken off the ventilator within five days. 
So, why am I presenting this one case to you? Well, this is a new viral strain, and research takes time—meaning that, until then, we are forced to rely on case studies along with clinical presentations and observations to help identify potential therapies.
Meanwhile, additional studies have shown that taking vitamin C reduced certain viral respiratory infection incidences by up to 50 percent. 
Although these studies are ongoing and constantly developing, hospital use of intravenous vitamin C in severe cases of ARDS has shown some amazing promise in reducing what’s known as the cytokine storm (a rapidly developing inflammatory reaction found to be common in complicated cases of COVID-19 that result in severe symptoms). 
Additionally, a 2019 meta-analysis of 18 clinical trials with more than 2,000 patients reviewed the effect of vitamin C on both length of stay in the hospital intensive care unit and the duration of mechanical ventilation.
The meta-analysis revealed that oral administration of 1 to 3 grams daily of vitamin C reduced the patients’ time spent in the ICU by up to 8.6 percent. Vitamin C administration was also shown to shorten the duration of mechanical ventilation by 18.2 percent. 
While these clinical trials were completed before the onset of COVID-19, the researchers determined that the data was statistically significant and that the use of vitamin C on patients with COVID-19 warrants further investigation.
The use of vitamin C for viral respiratory illnesses makes sense, largely due to its antioxidant impact. Many vitamin C-focused studies were reported back in 2003 surrounding the SARS infection in China, and they have now become a promising area of research with this new strain as new clinical trials are underway.
This last risk factor shouldn’t come as a surprise, right? First, we know that psychological stress increases the desire to smoke.  And we also know that smoking worsens lung health and even cardiovascular health. [16, 17]
But, perhaps more pressingly, you may be shocked to learn that smoking blocks your body’s ability to absorb certain minerals, such as zinc. This is absolutely critical information right now, since zinc has become such a major focus in potential COVID-19 recovery due to its ability to slow the replication of the virus! [18, 19]
Also, smoking has been shown to block your production of glutathione, which is the most powerful antioxidant in your body. Not surprisingly, having low glutathione levels has been proposed to “be a crucial factor enhancing SARS-CoV-2-induced oxidative damage of the lung and, as a result, leads to serious manifestations, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, multiorgan failure, and death in COVID-19 patients.” 
Largely due to these factors, smoking has also been shown to increase your risk of not only catching the common cold and flu, but also COVID-19. Moreover, it’s been shown to increase your risk of complications should you catch the virus. 
In fact, one meta-analysis published in May 2020 revealed that COVID-19 progresses twice as fast in current or past smokers than in those who’ve never smoked at all! 
So, if you’re still with me, you’re likely reeling from this news, right? It’s frightening to think that the chronic stress we’re all under actually increases our risk of not only catching COVID-19 but also increases our chances of dying from it!
The key takeaway here? You have the power to change your health story! By changing your adrenal function and supporting your body’s ability to manage stress, you can lower your risk of illness.
Remember, stress is the primary contributor to not only less effective immune systems but also to the very conditions associated with COVID-19 complications! But that’s not all. Stress also depletes the very same nutrients being shown to have promise in improving the symptoms of COVID-19.
These nutrients include vitamin C, zinc, glutathione, and vitamin D. And, ironically, these are the very same nutrients that typically are deficient in people with diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.
The connection between stress and COVID-19 is now clearer than ever. Fortunately, there is something you can do right now to help protect yourself from the link between stress and COVID-19.
Prioritize your adrenal function to help your body better manage stress! By doing so, you’ll help to lower your cortisol levels—the same high levels that were linked to greater COVID-19 mortality risk!
Here are a few specific takeaways you’ll want to remember and act on immediately.
Amazingly, new research is proving just how vital stress relief is for recovering from this coronavirus. In fact, you may recall our recent discussion of the vagus nerve. Well, scientists are now discovering that vagus nerve stimulation has been shown to expedite symptomatic recovery of COVID-19.
How? It’s been shown to provide immediate and consistent relief of chest tightness and shortness of breath.  That’s pretty major, right?
Well, in the last several days, the USDA just approved emergency use of a handheld vagus stimulator specifically for COVID-19 use!  But that doesn’t mean you have to run out and buy one of these stimulators (which can easily costs over $150 and requires a doctor’s supervision). All you have to do is know how to stimulate your vagus nerve naturally.
Now, let me be clear that I’m not saying that stimulating your vagus nerve will prevent catching COVID-19. But there are exercises you can do at home to strengthen your vagal tone, which helps to reduce the impact of stress on your body.
You can begin to stimulate your vagus nerve naturally by engaging in some deep breathing exercises. Also, make sure to check out my article on vagus nerve stimulation for more ways to naturally improve your vagal tone.
According to the British Medical Journal, in the wake of this COVID-19 pandemic, what we eat matters more now than ever.  Between the stress we’re under now and the processed foods we’re consuming too frequently, it’s creating the perfect inflammatory storm inside our bodies that will only feed viral respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.
Eating for stress relief is delicious and satisfying—plus is reduces your risks of the very comorbidies that have been shown to exaggerate COVID-19 symptoms: hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. There truly has never been a better time to arm yourself with proper nutrition and prioritize your body’s ability to manage stress.
But I know it can be hard to know where to start. Here’s a quick overview on how to eat for stress relief. And if you’re looking for more guidance, including a month-long meal plan (that you can customize for your personal preferences), shopping lists, snack ideas, and more, check out The Total Health Turnaround Program.
As a physician, many patients come to me with a history of failed attempts to improve their health. And I often find that there’s one key missing element: They haven’t prioritized the mind-body connection.
With psychological stress causing so much of our physical stress and illness, it’s vital to remember how our minds impact our bodies. If you’re physically healthy but haven’t done the emotional healing that comes along with it the physical work, it’s going to be hard to maintain your results.
Think about it: How often has your mood impacted your food choices? How frequently have you decided to stay at home and sit on the couch rather than spend time with a loved one or move your body because of a disappointment or bad day?
Learning how to reframe your situation and train your mind to lower your stress is crucial right now. I have a few articles covering these topics, but if you’re looking for more directed guidance, The Total Health Turnaround Program may be the next right step for you.
Lastly, giving into fear, anger, and panic surrounding this pandemic will only worsen your stress and ultimately impact your ability to fight this illness. In fact, fear can actually cloud your judgement by changing the way your brain inputs information. So, having an open mind and a bit of optimism can go a very long way.
Regardless of the path you choose to take going forward, it’s more important now than ever to recognize the link between stress and COVID-19. By supporting your body’s ability to handle stress, you truly can take your health into your own hands. After all, knowledge is power; knowledge is health.