Good Mood and Health: The Stunning Effect of Positivity on our Immunity
"If the virus doesn't kill us, fear will." We've heard it dozens of times since last March when the coronavirus pandemic was declared. Although it sounds dramatic, it makes more sense than we think. It has been proven that how we feel about the world and its circumstances has a huge influence on our individual health. In other words, overcoming illness or learning to cope with a challenge depends a lot on how we handle or cope with positive and negative emotions.
We already know that stress, depression, and loneliness deteriorate health, triggering a series of chemical reactions in our body, such as an increase in hormones like cortisol, which in excess are harmful. However, several researches have now proven that negative emotions do not help us battle health issues because they do not generate the appropriate responses from our immune system.
Gradually and for decades, some pioneers and brave experts have dared to mention the power of the nervous system, which determines our emotions and mood, and how it manifests our immune capacity. Although there are still many skeptics, everyday there is more and more research confirming this. Not only that, but the data also proves this interdependency works in both directions.
The 1983 Journal of Neurology published an article explaining how the immune system interferes with brain function and vice versa. It mentioned that inflammatory diseases of the brain, such as epileptic seizures or meningitis, can interfere with the barrier that protects the nervous system. In turn, the nervous system influences the immune response through hormone secretion and in the way some neurotransmitters function.
A 2003 study confirmed this relationship between the two systems, finding an impressive communication network that connects them and is related to stress. The research points out that, among other things, stressors can change the immune response because they modify the receptors of immune-related cells.
Another review article from England demonstrates the similarity between emotional response and immune capacity and even suggests the need for a new scientific area of research: affective immunology.
Why is this data important?
When you see so many studies and research, you might wonder what good it does to know them all or how best to incorporate that information into your daily life. Therein lies the key. None of it makes any sense if we don't include a way to put it all into practice and improve our lives while better coping with disease.
It has been almost twelve months since we all, in one way or another, had our lives changed by COVID-19. Still today and thanks to constant research, we are seeing new and effective treatments, the planning of mass vaccination in the coming months, and a small glimpse of light at the end of this long tunnel. For many people, the emotional impact that this has all generated is far from dissipating. And that is perhaps one of the biggest effects on health, not only today but for the future as well.
Many, if not most, are fighting not only the fear of contagion, but also the sadness of losing a loved one, the stress of trying to pay bills, lack of employment, sadness and loneliness from social distancing, hopelessness about an extremely uncertain future, depression for what was and will never be the same for a long time... there are so many reasons! Even once we overcome this pandemic, there will be something else to divert us from the path of happiness, health, and fulfillment – placing us on alert mode, turning on all the alarms in the body’s defense response, wearing it down and leaving us adrift to an external or autoimmune attack.
Negative emotions are not only expressed in anger, bad mood, poor attitude, sadness, or listlessness. The worst part is that these unchecked negative emotions can trigger or worsen bad habits, increasing our risk of getting sick. It can be likened to eating that is driven by anxiety rather than by necessity or nutrition. In fact, attitude can even determine a person's risk of mortality.
The flipside to this is that it has also been proven that people, regardless of their economic status, who maintain a good attitude tend to eat healthier which, in turn, helps them improve their health. That is why it is so important to adopt measures that in time will help us achieve a better quality of life in all aspects.
What is the best way to improve your mood and, therefore, your health?
Nowadays, it is more common to recognize the value of positive psychology which, unlike normal psychology that focuses more on issues of the past, tries to complement therapy using scientific methods that help create a healthier and happier life. To achieve this, there is a focus on the positive psychological characteristics of an individual, such as their talents, interests, and character strengths. According to research, these are all linked to better health.
Although when we are feeling low it is not easy to do, even the slightest attempt at positivity can generate results. To be completely healthy, it is important to maintain preventive measures, exercise, get proper nutrition and good physical supplementation, do mental checks, and take stock of our emotions. The idea is to stop emphasizing what was lost to the past, what you do not currently have or cannot currently do, and instead rely on your strengths:
Recognize talents and put them to work.
Think about what your desires and interests are and create a list of steps to achieve them. For example, study, change jobs, move to a different city, etc.
Search among your strengths to achieve these steps or use them to reinforce. For example, changing habits, being more disciplined, organizing, etc.
Use support tools, such as activities that make you happy or participate in groups with similar interests (online for now).
Take advantage of complementary therapies that can support your mental and emotional health. Many of these are free and can be accessed on the internet. Here you can find material including exercises and videos that teach and explain tools to manage stress and trauma, developed by experts in various disciplines from the same psychologists, psychiatrists and coaches from the international association ACEP (Association For Comprehensive Energy Psychology) that have been used for victims of natural disasters and political or social crises.
The pandemic will eventually pass, and new challenges will arise, but if we have a suitcase of self-help tools and know how to use them, we can overcome illness and any of its consequences in a better and efficient way. You know it can be done!
Let's be healthier, together!
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