You might think that boosting your immune system is all about taking vitamin pills and watching your blood pressure. The truth is that protecting yourself from illness depends on your mind as much as your body.
In fact, there’s a growing field of science called psychoneuroimmunology that’s devoted to how your personality and mood affect your immune system. Discover what you can do to cultivate traits that help you stay healthy.
Stress and Your Immune System
Chronic stress may be responsible for as much as 90% of all doctor visits in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When stress hormones like cortisol remain present for too long, they can cause disruptions that lead to premature aging, heart conditions, and other issues.
1. Slow down. Take a deep breath when you find yourself rushing around. Stretch out and release the tension.
2. Trim your to-do list. Look for items that you can scratch off your agenda. Maybe you can do laundry only once a week.
3. Rest and relax. Refresh your body and mind with high quality sleep and effective relaxation. Go to bed and rise at the same time each day. Take a walk or meditate when you need a break.
Loneliness and Your Immune System
Lack of social support can also undermine your immune system. Several studies have found higher levels of antibodies in participants who report being lonely, which suggests more viral activity.
1. Schedule get-togethers. Prioritize time spent with friends. Set up a regular Tuesday morning coffee date or a Saturday afternoon tennis game.
2. Meet new friends. Is your social circle shrinking? Take an accounting class or join a gardening club where you can find others who share your interests.
3. Leave home. If you’re feeling isolated working at home, take your laptop to an internet cafe. Strike up a conversation with someone in line or just enjoy watching the crowd.
Anger and Your Immune System
A Harvard University study found that hostility can decrease lung capacity, possibly due to stress hormones inflaming airways. While angry outbursts or bottling up emotions can be hard on your heart and immune system, there are more constructive approaches.
1. Practice forgiveness. Choose to let go of resentments. Cultivate compassion for yourself and others. Remember how much better you’ll feel when you release the past.
2. Count to ten. Pause before you say or do something you may regret. A few seconds maybe all you need to prevent a conflict with your boss or spouse.
3. Laugh more. There are some issues worth battling for, and many others that you can safely overlook. See your homeowner’s association as entertaining rather than annoying when they try to dictate how many flowers you can plant.
Altruism and Your Immune System
Helping others causes physiological changes in your brain that make you happier and calmer. Good deeds strengthen your immune system and enhance your wellbeing.
1. Volunteer your time. Even if money is tight, you can be generous with your time. Run errands for an elderly relative or sign up for a charity race.
2. Share your wisdom. Let others benefit from your expertise. If you’re a whiz at math, tutor school children who are struggling with fractions. Post your recipe for sourdough bread online.
3. Offer praise. Brighten someone’s day with a kind word. Tell your mail carrier how much you appreciate their services. Compliment a stranger on their attractive hairdo.
Recognizing the mind-body connection may help you to catch fewer colds and lower your risk for more serious illnesses. For a longer and healthier life, protect your immune system by managing stress and connecting with others.