By Rafael Castillo M.D.
What if I told you that you could think, feel and believe your way out of this pandemic?
You might think I’m just pulling your leg, but resetting your minds can, indeed, be a key not only to surviving this pandemic but also to prevailing over it.
We emphasized in last week’s column that maintaining a positive mindset is essential amid today’s bad news and uncertainties. Focusing always on a half-filled glass rather than a half-empty one and looking for the silver lining, can release the “dis-ease,” or lack of ease, which a negative mindset causes.
Without you realizing it, negative thoughts and feelings are activating negative expressions of our genes via the immune system that could increase our susceptibility to the virus and other serious medical conditions like cancer.
An emerging science called epigenetics tells us that how we think, feel and believe can determine the physical expression of our genes. There are some genetic expressions which are fixed, like the color of our eyes, hair and bone structure.
But much of the genetic expression—activated by processes by which genes create vital proteins and other molecules like riboneucleic acids (RNAs)—is influenced mainly by how we perceive things.
RNA is an essential polymeric molecule required in various biological processes in the coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. The virus causing the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a single-strand RNA, so it can sabotage our gene expression when our body’s defenses are too weak to repulse it.
Thoughts, based on perceptions, stir equivalent emotions that release chemicals and hormones in various cells in the body influencing the genetic expression. Positive thoughts and emotions like love, gratefulness and compassion activate nourishing chemicals and hormones that promote growth, healing and regeneration. This results in harmony, happiness, good health and wellness.
Meanwhile, negative thoughts and emotions like anger, hatred and bitterness produce potent chemicals that promote cellular degeneration, formation of tumor cells and weakening of the immune system.
When you’re in this negative state, diseases like cancer and COVID-19 can’t be far behind. The viral RNA overwhelms the immune system and takes over the coding, decoding, regulation and gene expression. The virus, which cannot replicate on its own outside its host, now multiplies exponentially inside the host and ravages the lungs and other vital organs of the body.
So, we have to guard our minds to make sure our gene expression is not adversely affected. Our genes just contain a blueprint of what may potentially express in our body. The field of genetics used to tell us that genes determined what diseases will develop later in life. So, if we’re born with bad genes, there’s nothing much we could do about it, and sooner or later, the disease will manifest in our body.
But now we know that this is not exactly correct.
Epigenetics assures us that even if we may have been born with bad genes, this is actually just a minor factor determining the final outcome. The environment factor, influenced by our perception of things and the resulting behavior it causes, is the major determinant.
Experts in epigenetics constantly warn us that stress and nutrition are important environment factors that can affect our genetic expression. We just have to learn that important skill of managing our stress, especially at a time like this.
Allowing ourselves to feel forlorn, desolate and constantly under stress will adversely influence the expression of our genes and make us vulnerable to diseases like COVID-19. People with negative mindsets are unwittingly drawn to negative and self-sabotaging behavior that could make them less compliant with following recommended precautions like social distancing and hand hygiene.
Conversely, a strongly positive attitude can lead to more health-promoting behavior, and there’s a subconscious programming to be more health-conscious and to adhere to the prescribed precautions and safeguards.
A few decades ago, epigenetics was considered science fiction. Now it has evolved into a field of science with an accumulating body of evidence to support it.
We should not surrender the responsibility to be our mind’s gatekeeper, and to allow only positive thoughts to dwell in it. In a way, the mind is like a garden—if there is no gardener, weeds (negative thoughts) will grow and fill the garden. But if there’s a dedicated gardener—he makes sure the weeds don’t grow. He cultivates the soil and plants flower- and fruit-bearing plants and trees (positive thoughts). He nurtures them every day.
Negative thoughts are our default mindset. So, it’s true that maintaining a positive mindset is difficult, because it requires an active effort on our part to replace the default setting of negative thoughts with positive ones, and nurture them till they’re well entrenched.
Through daily prayer and meditation, we can nurture the seeds of positive thoughts we’ve planted in our minds until they grow into deeply rooted, robust trees that no amount of negative events like this COVID-19 pandemic could uproot.
So, just as I asked last week, do you want to be a victim of COVID-19, or a victor over it? Which type of seeds have you decided to plant in your mind?