We often look for ways to improve their immune systems; protecting ourselves from being bed-ridden during flu season or or catching every bug that travels through our workplace.. Health food stores sell millions of dollars’ worth of supplements of Vitamin C and other vitamins known to improve your immune functioning. Yet, there’s an overlooked way to strengthen your immune system that is research proven to be effective and it’s FREE.
Emotions play a critical role in the functioning of our immune system in both positive and negative ways. Emotions has a significant impact on both our production of antibodies and our natural killer blood cells (NK cells) that serve as our first line of immune strength. Antibodies help to identify and attack foreign germs in our bodies. NK cells work to destroy tumor cells, disease tissue, bacteria as well as to help antibodies fight against infections in their early stages. In this article, I identify emotions that are known to impact our body’s production and operation of antibodies and/or NK cells. We can clearly see the dangerous emotions that weaken the immune system as well as 3 emotions we can practice as a daily boost to our immune system, naturally.
Emotions that Destroy the Immune System
Anger raises our blood pressure, increases our heart beat, gives us headaches and compromises our cognitive function. But did you know that anger can also make it easier for you to get the flu? In a study published by the Journal of Advancement in Medicine, researchers asked people to recall either an angry situation or a loving situation. The participants who recalled an angry situation experienced significantly lower immune antibodies. Moreover, the decrease in antibodies cause by anger lasted for six hours. Anger suppresses the immune functioning long beyond the situation that made us angry has passed.
Social isolation and the feelings of loneliness that it produces also works to weaken the functioning of our immune systems. A research study found that infant monkeys caged alone and separate from their mothers generate fewer antibodies in response to viruses. The act of physical and social separate suppresses the power of the immune system, making us vulnerable to a host of minor and major diseases.
Anxiety also known as stress is a primary driver of many health problems, often operating by weakening the immune system. While a short dose of fear can produce a healthy, enhanced physical performance, sustained states of fear for one’s safety a security dramatically reduce the health of the immune system. In fact, the negative impact of social fear is even greater than the impact of physical deprivation on our immune system.
In a study reviewed by the Harvard School of Medicine, mice were put into a cage with a highly aggressive mouse two hours a day for six days and repeatedly threatened (but not injured) were twice as likely to die as other mice that were kept in tiny cages without food and water for long periods. The social stressor of fear is a even more powerful impact on immune functioning that the stressor of physical deprivation.
Emotions that Naturally Boost Your Immune System
Emotions are produced by thoughts, but they are not isolated in your mind. Your emotional state triggers a cascade of physical reactions in your body. Every time you operate from feelings of anger, loneliness, and fear you are pouring waves of toxicity through your body, damaging your immune system and compromising your overall health. The good news is that the impact of our emotional state on the functioning of body goes in both the positive and negative direction.
We have the power to choose our emotional state. Much of our emotional state is a product not of what happens to us, but rather how we think about what happens to us. In a previous article, I review how we can replace the negative thinking that produces unhealthy responses with more positive thoughts that promote our physical and psychological well-being. As we practice creating positive, healthy emotional states for ourselves, we remove and repair the damage created by anxiety, loneliness, and fear. We can literally make ourselves healthier by intentionally cultivating the following emotional states in our daily lives. Click & Tweet!
Humor can be a great way to combat the damage created by created by anger and other negative emotions. Humor dramatically improves not only our psychological sense of well-being but our immune system as well. Humor curbs stress hormones and boost our NK cell production.
Injecting humor into our lives significantly improves the functioning of our immune system hours after the humorous event and days leading up to a humorous event. In a research study where men were told three days in advance that they were going to watch a funny video, they experienced a significantly lower drop in stress hormones (as compared to those men who were not anticipating the funny video). Moreover, 12 hours after watching a funny video, the research participants still had higher biological indicators of immunity than those who did not watch the video. Laughter is truly (long-acting) medicine.
You can significantly improve your immune system functioning and your overall physical health by injecting more humor into your day. Allow yourself “indulgences” of humor, like a funny 5min youtube clip or a funny movie. Too often when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, we remove these activities out of our lives because we “don’t have time” for such frivolous play. But there is nothing frivolous about humor. It is an essential part of a healthy life and will provide you with immediate and long-term benefits to your productivity and physical health. So go ahead and tell a funny joke. Improve your and someone else’s immune system today.
Humans are social creatures and have an inherent need for connection to maintain health and overall well-being. This positive impact of connection includes three dimensions: connection to self, connection to others, and connection to nature. While these three dimensions of connection are distinctive they are interrelated and connection in one area enhances and expands the capacity for connection in the others. Promoting our connectedness strengthens the functioning of our immune system. Click & Tweet!
Research shows a positive correlation between social connectedness and immune functioning. Individuals who have a network of social support produce more disease fighting NK cells than those who don’t. Scholars conclude that increasing social support might provide a “high natural immunity” to disease and infection. So take the time to connect with your family and friends and visit loved ones who are sick. These emotional bonds strengthen both your and their immune systems.
A number of other research studies have shown connecting with nature also enhances your immune functioning. A study that compared men taking 2 hour walks in parks or forest to men walking for the same amount of time in the city found that that visiting parks and forests raised the production of NK cells by 50%. Another study focused on women found the same effect and noted that the increase in NK cells lasted a week for those women who walked in nature. Practicing sensory walks in nature is a great way to boost our immune system and become more aware of our connections to the larger world.
Steven Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and a member of the UCLA Cousins Center, and his colleagues have spent years studying the impact of happiness and other emotions on gene expression and physical health. They distinguish between two types of happiness: happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life and happiness focused only on pleasure seeking and self-gratification. In their report to the National Academy of Sciences, they found that happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life promotes the gene expression of antiviral and antibody genes. Happiness focused only on self-gratification had the opposite effect, suppressing the health of the immune system.
Happy people are healthier and live longer. Click & Tweet! Yet this relationship between happiness and positive health only exists for those individuals who cultivate happiness from a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life. These are people who are clear on their unique contribution to this world and have developed a life that reflects their personal truth.
Thankfully, we all can cultivate this kind of happiness. I’ve provided some free resources on my website (www.yourlifeinfocuscoach.com) to help you in cultivating a life of happiness that reflects and affirms your core values and life purpose. If you’d like more clarity on discovering your life purpose, sign up to receive my free Life Goals Planning Toolkit.
Wishing you a life filled with joy, connection, purpose, and health!
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