Psychoneuroimmunology. Ok so it's not a household word although it should be. It is a fairly new field of medicine that studies the affect our mind has on our immune function. MIND over MATTER. Now THAT's something everyone's heard of. We've only begun to scratch the surface in this field of study to understand how what we think affects us on a physical and cellular level.
When we think of stress, it's hard to imagine having less of it in this instant gratification, instant exchange of information, technology always at the ready, modern world in which we live. But we've never before had more unhealthy eating patterns, an obesity and diabetes epidemic added in the mix. Not only are we swimming in stress but our children our modeling that behavior.
I'm not talking about acute stress such as seeing blue lights in your rearview mirror - that quickly abates. The stress that is literally killing us, slowly, is chronic stress. It is this level of stress that affects us on a cellular level. It increases our cortisol levels (stress hormones), contributes to insomnia, illness, weight gain and even our ability to fight infection and cancer cells. So how does this all work?
We have cancer fighting cells in our body called natural killer cells (NK). It is the job of these cells to search and destroy any invading organisms that are present to cause disease or illness. When we have chronic stress, these cells are not only decreased in number but their ability to do their job is diminished as well.
Cancer cells are in all of our bodies trying to take hold but when we have our normal functioning NK cells, they quickly destroy them and our body excretes them, keeping us healthy. So imagine how susceptible we are to a wide range of illnesses when our immune system is at such a disadvantage.
How do we begin to mitigate stress and keep our immune system healthy? Finding ways to manage stress can help a great deal. It's not about avoiding stress, it's about how we respond to it. Some examples are:
These are but a few examples, there are many more and if you want to further explore them, I recommend a great textbook by Brian Luke Seaward entitled Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Well-Being.
LISA DIAMOND, DNP-FNP-C
With that goal in mind, I founded Journey Into Wellness, LLC to educate people on wellness using a holistic approach encompassing mind/body/spirit/emotion. I facilitate a variety of workshops & retreats on self-discovery, journaling, mindfulness, meditation, knitting, nutrition and stress management. I am also the founder of The Happiness Knitting Project: Spreading Happiness, Reducing Stress One Ball of Yarn at a Time. I enjoy travel, spending time with family, running, yoga, and journaling. My passions are knitting and the study of psychoneuroimmunology - how our mind affects our immune system.
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