Guest post by: Dr Mariah Mosley
Thankfully flu and cold season is over. What did you use to bolster your immune system to prevent illness? Vitamin C or herbal Echinacea? Getting extra sleep and drinking more water? Here’s one thing you may not have considered.
Psychological Well-Being and Immune Function
Studies have shown psychological well-being boosts immune responses and enhances resistance to infectious (and non-infectious) diseases1. Psychological well-being (PWB) is defined as having a positive mental state, happiness, and satisfaction with your life. Carol Ryff studied this topic extensively and defined 6 domains of PWB: self-acceptance, positive relationships, personal autonomy/capacity to be self-reliant, environmental mastery/feeling you have the resources to cope or adapt to problems, a sense of purpose in life, and a sense of personal growth3. It is always important to be evaluating yourself in these areas, but before we go down those rabbit holes, I will explain a couple tactics shown to produce positive outcomes in your mind and body.
The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection
I am a firm believer in addressing all three aspects for my patients: Mind, Body, and Spirit. Personally, I have found my spiritual relationship with God has helped me live a happier, calmer, more balanced life. A religious faith (and a strong social support system) increased the CD4+ cell count in patients living with HIV and AIDS2. (CD4+ cells are the white blood cells that HIV virus targets and lowers, leading to a compromised immune system.) It was also shown that a spiritual connection to something higher than oneself, increased quality of life, decreased relapses, and reduced psychological distress in patients with inflammatory bowel disease4.
Music and the Immune System
Music therapy was shown to boost immune response in cancer patients6, and even in the families of the patients and in the nurses! If you aren’t a music lover, there are plenty of other creative outlets that can fill your cup: sketching, painting, writing, taking pictures, crafting, or organizing your closet. Or, animal contact counts, too: riding horses, petting your cat or dog (or your neighbor’s friendly pup), or spending some time with that goldfish. Make an effort to do SOMETHING daily that increases your happiness and wellbeing.
Relationships and Immune Function
Having solid, healthy relationships with good communication skills can also increase your wellbeing. Parents practicing empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another) was shown to improve children’s health and their immune systems, and supported their emotional regulation5. Social support was shown to improve PTSD symptoms, as well as hope and resilience8. We have seen for many years the importance of having a sense of community–one you can trust and rely on. Your community can be in the form of your family, close friends, neighbors, volunteer group, sports team, book club, gym partners, church, or colleagues. It is important to surround ourselves with people who are supportive and will give us positive feedback. This helps increase our self-esteem, which in turn helps improve our reactivity to stressful situations9.
The Take-Home Message
The last thing to look at is: are there any road blocks to achieving your emotional and mental well-being? Is there something causing you daily stress or holding you back from being your happy, healthy self? Chronic stress plays an important role in lowering your immune system response. It can change the concentration of acid in the stomach leading to stomach ulcers, ulcerative colitis, bacteria overgrowth, etc. Prolonged psychological stress can cause increased plaque buildup in the arteries (atherosclerosis), increased risk for vascular disease, and increased mortality in patients that have pre-existing coronary artery disease7. Yikes! Sometimes you may not always be able to see your obstacles to cure clearly, and that is why I believe when people are at a point they feel they have plateaued, getting a naturopathic doctor and/or licensed counselor on board can be a game changer.
So in conclusion, YOUR MIND MATTERS! What are you doing to improve your happiness today? How do you think you could improve your quality of life and self-esteem? My quick one sentence advice—work on controlling your thoughts, don’t let those thoughts control you 🙂
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