Understanding and Responding to Viral Pandemics

A Simple Intro from Scientific NLP

Written by Dr Richard Bolstad

Transformations International Consulting & Training Ltd

Understanding the biology of viruses can help us utilise NLP to support people staying healthy and recovering speedily from viral infections. This explanation by Richard Bolstad is designed to help you support yourself as you stay radiantly healthy and follow approved medical advice. Richard is a Registered Nurse who worked as a contact tracer and public health nurse, preparing for possible pandemics in the 1980s. He hereby gives permission for this article to be copied and/or translated and published with acknowledgement of source, anywhere.

Viruses: Viruses are microscopic agents that can usually only live inside other living beings where they use the cell’s own replication system to create copies of themselves. They consist of DNA or RNA, inside a protein "capsid" (which includes the specific shapes that "bind" to target sites on the cells of the host organism) and the virus is then surrounded by a protective layer of fat. Viruses transfer genetic material "horizontally" from one life form to another, and while this can sometimes be to the advantage of the host organism, it also generally triggers an immune response. Up to 8% of the human genome consists of genetic material that was originally of viral origin and has been incorporated into our systems for useful purposes such as regulating immune response to the foetus in a mammal body.

Immunity: The main immune response to viruses, in human beings, is organised by a group of white blood cells called "Cytotoxic T-cells". T-cells are just white blood cells which have been specialised for tasks like this in the Thymus gland in the chest. These Cytotoxic T-cells have specialised proteins on their surface that help them to recognise virally-infected cells, which they then destroy by triggering "apoptosis" (cell self-destruction). A related category of white blood cells are NK (Natural Killer) cells which seem to recognise virus infected cells without them having a specific antigen that alerts the T-cells. Virally infected cells also produce interferons, which both interfere with virus replication, and warn other cells nearby. Finally, Antibodies are proteins that specifically recognise invading viruses and bind (stick) to them, and thus make them visible to white blood cells which can then “eat” the viruses, a process called Phagocytosis. (All this basic information, by the way, can be found on Wikipedia, and in Oldstone, 2010).

Autoimmune responses: The immune response is protective of course, but if it is over-triggered, then a dangerous autoimmune condition can occur such as chronic fatigue syndrome, or Cytokine storm (where a flood of immune signalling cytokines are released causing organ collapse). Usually, "Regulatory T-cells" make sure that the immune response does not attack healthy body cells and other desirable cells that form part of our ecological balance.

Zoonosis: Evolution is a continuous dialogue between viruses and their hosts, and by and large it leads to arrangements where the virus is able to spread without causing death to the host or the termination of the host species (death of the host, of course, is usually the end of the line for the infecting viral organism, so not their aim). Viruses causing major problems are thus those that have leapt from another species to ours in the recent past (a process called zoonosis). Examples are SARS-CoV-2 (from bats), measles (from cattle), smallpox (from African rodents), Avian influenza or HPAI (from chickens), Swine influenza or SIV (from pigs), AIDS of HIV (from Chimpanzees), and MERS (from bats via camels).

Vaccination - The Smallpox Example: Smallpox (variola virus), for example, is found in ancient Egyptian mummies. It has up to 35% mortality, and was a leading cause of death in Europe for many centuries. It is closely related to cowpox, and other viral "pox" diseases, all of which tend to offer cross-immunity to it. "Inoculation" or "variolation" by placing a sample of the milder "variola minor" virus under the skin was used in ancient India and China to prevent the disease. By 1700 CE, the population of the Ottoman empire was largely vaccinated and in the following century the method was brought back to Europe and gradually gained acceptance there. The modern vaccine (produced from cowpox – the Latin for a cow being "vacca") still produced a serious allergic response in one in a thousand cases, but compared to the millions dying each year from smallpox, this was considered worth the risk. Starting in 1967 (at which time over 2 million died of smallpox world-wide each year) the World Health Organisation ran a campaign of world-wide vaccination, and by 1980 was able to declare that the disease was eradicated completely. The author strongly supports vaccination in general, and is choosing not to discuss here various "objections" to it which have become popular since the 1990s.

Staying Safe and Healthy: Good levels of Vitamins D and C have been associated with successful response to viral infection, and of course washing with soap breaks the viruses lipid (fat) covering. Historically humans have survived viral plagues largely by the use of protective gear (masks etc.) and community isolation (the word quarantine refers to the Italian quarantina - "forty days" that ships needed to isolate before their passengers were allowed on land during the plagues). Other methods of enhancing response to viral attacks include the kind of immune enhancing visualisations we teach in NLP (see below).

On "Fear is the Real Pandemic" "Unconscious shields" and "Herd Immunity": To restate, viral plagues from other species are a serious health risk to humans, and our bodies do not automatically just "build immunity" to them. Pandemics are real, and being careful to follow medical advice is intelligent. Of course they are part of the natural world, but our constant interference with nature causes many more incidents of species crossing infection than is "natural". If you think that we will just develop "herd immunity" to any new virus, you need to understand that the cost may eventually be severe. Myxomatosis is a mild pox virus from South American brush rabbits; transferred across species, it kills 99.8% of European rabbits and so was used to exterminate these in several countries. Of course the surviving 0.2% ultimately may develop herd immunity (they did in Australia), but nature is not always some gentle ecological symphony, and the devastation of herd immunity is not always a price worth paying. The last pandemic we humans faced was AIDS. There's no "herd immunity" to the HIV virus. For all our science, using protective gear is still sometimes the best solution. It is sad to me to see NLP Trainers and others who do not understand this, and promote dangerous and unscientific "solutions" online. The most shocking I've seen was the claim that "Masks, gloves, etc do little or nothing to help you stay safe. The best way to protect yourself is to work with your unconscious to set a shield that protects your nervous system from getting the virus." This is medically unsafe and scientifically incorrect. Used with medically appropriate advice, of course your attitude helps you stay well. AND ... we live in the real world. Here is how to support your use of safe medical practice ....

Emotions and Immunity: Research shows that bereavement and experimentally induced negative mood states both inhibit the body's lymphocyte (white blood cell) production (Bartrop et alia 1977, Schleifer et alia 1983, Futterman et alia, 1994). Sustained grief and depression, then, are states which increase the risk of viral attack. On the other hand, a proactive style of coping with stress is associated with enhanced T cell activity (Goodkin et alia, 1992). That is to say, when someone is in a state where they feel in charge of their life, and as if they are making choices about their future, a check of their T cells will show that these cells are more actively eliminating infected cells.

Research on NLP Style Processes: Short term educational psychotherapy/coaching can also increase both the percentage of T cells and their activity, by teaching the person how to respond resourcefully (Fawzy et alia, 1990, and 1993). These improvements in T cell activity, due to short term therapy, continue to intensify up to 6 months after the psychotherapy! Nicholas Hall, at the University of South Florida, describes a study in which he found that lymphocytes from women who did guided imagery, were both more effectively duplicating themselves and more effectively dissolving and engulfing diseased cells (Gruber et alia, 1993). Research also shows that lymphocyte activity can be anchored using NLP anchoring (classical conditioning) techniques (Buske-Kirschbaum, 1992 - in this controlled research study, the anchor was a neutral sherbet sweet given at the same time as an injection of adrenaline. The result was an increase in natural killer cell activity, which could then be reactivated by sherbet). The effect of visualisation is so precise that when students are taught to imagine their lymphocytes doing one specific activity (in the research, they imagined the lymphocytes adhering to other cells better) then that specific activity will be enhanced and not others! (Hall et alia, 1992). Both general hypnotic suggestion and suggestion combined with precise visualisations are effective. "In two studies, hypnosis buffered the effects of stress on immune functions in medical students at exam time, and the comparison of self-hypnosis with and without immune imagery confirmed advantages to targeted imagery for both immune function and mood, and importantly, fewer winter viral infections. The implications for health were investigated in a third study in patients with virulent and chronic herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2). Six weeks of training almost halved recurrence, improved mood and reduced levels of clinical depression and anxiety. Immune functions were up-regulated, notably functional natural killer cell activity to HSV-1 [Herpes simplex]." (Gruzelier, 2009). Please be clear: none of this makes NLP or hypnosis an evidence based "treatment" for viral conditions of any sort. It is simply suggestive of the positive advantage of using these tools to support your health while taking medically approved preventive and treatment actions!

Summary: Viruses are microscopic agents that replicate inside human beings and other living things. Your body's immune system produces antibodies to identify invasive viruses, and T-cells to eliminate cells with them. An over-response by the immune system can sometimes also be dangerous. Viruses from other species are particularly risky because our body has no evolved response to them. Immunisation and infection reduction by barriers and distancing are ways to enhance our natural survival from these events, avoiding serious species population reduction and suffering. Internally vitamin D and C are useful. Emotions affect immune response, and feeling empowered to act is immunity enhancing. Visualising all your systems working well actually positively affects their functioning too. These are positive personal actions which you can take while following sound medical advice about prevention and treatment.


  • Bartrop R.W. et alia, "Depressed lymphocyte function after bereavement" Lancet 1977, 1:884

  • Burford-Mason, A., Gyte, G.M.L. and Watkins, S.M., 1989, "Phytohaemaglutinin responsiveness in peripheral lymphocytes and survival in patients with primary breast cancer" Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 13: 243-250

  • Buske-Kirschbaum A., Kirschbaum C., Stierle H., Lehnert H., and Hellhaminer D., 1992 "Conditioned increase in natural killer cell activity in humans" in Psychosomatic Medicine 54:123-132

  • Dilts, R., Hallbom, T. and Smith, S. Beliefs: Pathways to Health and Well-being Metamorphous, Portland, Oregon, 1990

  • Fawzy F.I., Fawzy N.W., Hyun C.S. et alia "Malignant Melanoma: effects of an early structured psychiatric intervention, coping and affective state on recurrence and survival 6 years later" Archives of General Psychiatry 1993, 50:681-689

  • Fawzy F.I., Kenieny M.E., Fawzy N.W. et alia "A structured psychiatric intervention for cancer patients. 11 Changes over time in immunological measures" Archives of General Psychiatry 1990, 47:729-735

  • Futterman, A.D., Kemeny M.E., Shapiro D., and Fahey J.L., "Immunological and physiological changes associated with induced positive and negative mood" Psychosomatic Medicine 1994, 56: 499-511

  • Goodkin K., Blancy N.T., Feaster D. et alia "Active coping style is associated with natural killer cell cytotoxicity in asymptomatic HIV-1 seropositive homosexual men" Journal of Psychosomatic Research 1992, 36:635-650

  • Gruber, B.L., Hersh, S.P., Hall, N.R., Waletzky, L.R., Kunz, J.F., Carpenter, J.K., Kverno, K.S., and Weiss, S.M., "Immunological responses of breast cancer patients to behavioral interventions", Biofeedback Self Regul., 18(21), 1–22, 1993.

  • Gruzelier, J.H. "A Review of the Impact of Hypnosis, Relaxation, Guided Imagery and Individual Differences on Aspects of Immunity and Health" in The International Journal on the Biology of Stress, Vol. 5, 2002, Issue 2, p 147-163

  • Hall, H. et alia, "Voluntary modulation of neutrophil adhesiveness using a cyberphysiologic strategy" International Journal of Neuroscience, 1992, 63: 287-297

  • Oldstone, M.B.A. Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future, Oxford, Oxford UK, 2010

  • Schleifer S.J. et alia, "Suppression of lymphocyte stimulation following bereavement" Journal of the American Medical Association 1983, 250:374

Dr Richard Bolstad

Dr Richard Bolstad is a New Zealand born author, internationally recognised NLP Master Trainer, Doctor of Clinical Hypnotherapy, Chi Kung Instructor, Teacher, and Registered Nurse, who is widely known in the global NLP community for his promotion of research-based NLP.

Contact Richard:

Phone: +649 443 4134 or

Freephone: 0800 for NLP (0800 367657)

E-mail: info@transformations.net.nz

Website: http://www.transformations.net.nz


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