Mind Over Illness: Boosting Your Immunity With Your Thoughts
When our lives get hectic, many of us are concerned about illness such as cold and flu viruses. While it is true that eating healthy, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of rest can go a long way in supporting proper immune functioning, it is vital not to underestimate the power that the mind plays in directly affecting our immune systems.
Research in Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI)–the study of how beliefs, behaviours, and environment impact our health and illness –has shown that our negative thought patterns or states can play a major role in contributing to illness. The good news, however, is that positive thinking can actually strengthen your immune system.
As many of have experienced, changing negative thinking patterns can be a challenge. Therefore, it is important to examine three key questions.
• What conditions prompt my negative thinking?
• When I am in a negative state of mind, what can I do to change it?
• What can I do to create a healthier, more positive state of mind?
First, it is important to identify sense-oriented experiences of what you see, hear, touch, smell, and taste during your negative, unhealthy state of mind, such as irritation, hostility, depression, and helplessness. Noticing what you experience in your negative state is a crucial first step in moving towards a more resourceful thinking process.
When I am in a negative state of mind, what can I do to change it?
Once you have recognized your experiences during your negative thinking patterns, you can begin the process of changing it. There are two ways that this can be accomplished.
• Change your physiology
• Change your thinking
Change your Physiology
The first step to change your physiology is to modify your breathing patterns. Normally when we are exposed to stressors, such as anxiety or panic, we have a tendency to hyperventilate. This is an important fight or flight response; however, additional biochemical changes that happen in the body during high stress situations will only increase anxiety. To reduce the effects of stress, slow your breathing. Deep breathing comprises of slowly inhaling through the nose for 4 seconds then exhaling for the same amount of time. Continue to take deep breaths, concentrating on only moving your stomach.
After you have changed your breathing pattern, you will want to work on the other ways to change your negative physiology. Acting positive and being active–even when you don’t feel like it– can, in many instances, bring about a more productive state of mind. Breathing deeply, drawing your shoulders back, looking up, taking a walk, and exercising all work well.
Last, but not least, is the power of laughter. Laughter is one of the most effective tools to quickly get you out of a negative pattern.
Change your thinking
After you have changed your physiology, you will want to change your negative thought practices. Here are two ways you can start this.
• Pick a role model: Choose a real or fictional person that has the qualities that you would like to have. You can imagine yourself successfully handling the situation the way that individual would.
• Positive past experiences: An effective way to feel good in the present is to remember a positive experience you had in the past. Try reliving those good feelings by remembering the images or people you saw, a pleasant conversation you had, or some music you heard. Whatever the experience, make sure to remember it with is as much detail as you can.
What can I do to create a healthier, more positive state of mind?
With practice, you can instantly re- create these positive experiences by linking them to something that is associated to with that memory–a picture, a song, or item. Once you have decided on the link you will use, you can begin to practice associating it to your positive memory. Each time you see or hear the link you have created, go back and re-experience your resourceful memory. With practice, the association will happen naturally and automatically.
George has just been handed another project that his boss tells him needs to be completed by the end of the day. He can’t believe that this is happening, as he already has a stack of papers that are urgently due. Having read this article, George starts off by first asking himself, “What conditions prompted my negative thinking?” and “How do I experience this?” George realizes that being overwhelmed leads him toward anger and irritation. This is felt as a speeding up of his heartbeat and pressure in his head.
George’s next step is to ask himself, “In this negative state of mind, what I can do to change it?” He begins with taking slow, deep breaths. This alone already slows his heart rate and allows him to think more clearly.
Reflecting for a moment to recall someone he would like to emulate now, he thinks about his father and how competently and calmly his dad seemed to manage even the most stressful situations. George pulls out a pen that his father gifted to him, which helps him visualize and re-experience some positive emotions related to his role model and set to his task at hand.
Learning some stress-relieving techniques is a great way to help manage your stress and help prevent illness. Using these methods will help you say goodbye to colds and flu this season – your body and your mind will thank you!