The communication and control pathways exist both ways. For example, the nervous system directly synapses down onto immune cells in the lymph nodes. In return, there are receptors in the brain for communication chemicals such as hormones, peptides and cytokines that are released by immune cells. The brain and immune systems are an intertwined complex system. What affects one, affects the other.
To illustrate this, let’s look at the results of a classic experiment on the immune effects of emotion. Researchers asked method actors to simulate either positive emotions like happiness or negative emotions like anger and depression. Immune system function was measured before, during and after short period of emotional expression.
The results showed that positive emotions caused a measurable and significant increase in immune cell function and activity. More importantly however, negative emotions had both a larger and longer lasting negative effect on the immune system. Negative emotions cause a down-regulation in immune cell and system functioning that can last for many hours after the emotional event.
Other experiments have shown that the effect can also work in reverse. When the immune system is under attack from a pathogen like a flu virus or cold, it releases messenger molecules that cause a down-regulation in mood. It’s your body’s way of getting you to conserve energy, to remove yourself from others, to allow your immune system to get on with the job of protecting you. Whenever you are physically run-down or have a decreased immune function you will find yourself feeling slightly depressed and unhappy.
There are numerous documented cases of people using a mixture of humour, visualisation and meditation to overcome debilitating diseases such as cancer. Norman Cousins is a famous example. In the mid-1960’s he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative disease that causes the breakdown of the fibrous tissue binding the body’s cells together. Almost completely paralysed and given only a few months to live, Cousins ordered himself checked out of hospital and moved into a hotel room where he began taking extremely high doses of laughter and humour. He literally laughed his way back to health, and eventually returned to full-time work and a normal life. Cousins detailed his amazing journey in his book “Anatomy of an Illness”.
Here are some more fascinating results from recent research on the interaction between health and happiness
- People who score high on psychological tests assessing happiness, produce about 50% more antibodies than the average person in response to flu vaccines
- Individuals that test high on scales for happiness, optimism and contentment have reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and infections
- Researchers found that subjects who practiced acts of happiness and gratitude had raised energy levels, improved physical health and experienced less fatigue and pain
- One important study found that optimistic individuals reduced their risk of death by 50% over the nine year period of the study.
The main message and insight from these examples and the field of PNI is that your health, thoughts and emotions are interdependent and entwined. The more happiness and joy you feel, the better your immune system will respond. The greater your health, the more life enhancing positive feelings of joy and happiness you’ll be able to experience. There really is wisdom in the saying “a healthy mind in a healthy body”.
Thinking Tools – The Body-Mind Health Spiral
Your mind and body are connected in a loop – thoughts, feelings, beliefs and health influence each other!
Awareness Questions – Focusing on Health and Wellness
- What are my beliefs about my health? Do I believe I can easily achieve health and wellness?
- What are the behaviours that I do that negatively impact my health? How can I stop them?
- What behaviours can I do that will improve my health and wellness? How can I support myself for greater healthing?
Wishing you life enhancing wellness,