LOVE AND PAIN AND PSYCHONEUROIMMUNOLOGY
-A CALL TO ACTION
“There are seasons in every country when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism.”
My heart was broken last week by the events playing out on the national stage. I found myself feeling more helpless than I have in a long time. And with it, I felt nausea, tight lungs, physical heart pain, headaches, and finally exhaustion. I had no appetite for many days.
Did you feel it too? These are the effects of psychoneuroimmunology. Psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI for short, is the idea that our emotions and thoughts deeply affect our physical being through the action of chemical messengers from the brain. PNI is the study of the effect of the mind on health and resistance to disease. The official definition of PNI is: “a branch of medicine that deals with the influence of emotional states (as stress) and nervous system activities on immune function especially in relation to the onset and progression of disease.”
Perhaps you felt the results of this effect after recent events- now imagine the effects of chronic stress to the body over time, albeit perhaps a bit more subtle. PNI can affect healing time, gut health (anyone feel ‘gutted’ last week?) and the onset of conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, the ‘medical’ broken heart whereby longtime partners can be deeply affected or even die after a partner dies, the ability to successfully fight cancer, and skin irritations like eczema and psoriasis. Asthma has long been known to have an emotional component.
These processes are directly set in motion via the chemical messengers of hormones from the HPA axis- the control center of our brain. When under stress, this system signals for more cortisol to be released, keeping us in a state of emergency response, and suppressing the immune system to save energy.
But we are not just subject to the effects of psychoneuroimmunology- we can use this principle to profoundly benefit our wellbeing as well. Positive social interactions like love, laughter, and connection can result in the release of oxytocin, which has beneficial immune influences. We are a social being.
Meditation and stillness offer a path to quieting the messengers and reducing the amount of cortisol being released. The beneficial effects of meditation (which I consider essential to any wellness protocol) continue throughout the day as the meditator retrains neural networks and is more able to remain calm in the face of adversity.
This is my hope for the days ahead. This is where the need to be intentional comes in. In essence, the communication chemicals of the nervous system speak directly to the immune system. We can influence which chemicals are speaking by how we spend our time, how we shape our thoughts, and with whom we connect. On a deeper level, our nutritional health and vitality plays a critical role in keeping these systems up to their full capacity. It is all part of the whole picture.
There is no separation between physical, emotional, or spiritual health. We must attend to all three to do the work we are here to do. The events of the last week are a call to action to bring your wellness to the highest level in all three categories. Nourish yourself with love, laughter, and the best quality of food you can find. Move your body. Nutrient dense is the phrase of the day, whether it be the quality of the food we are taking in or the quality of the interactions we have around us. Meditation and self-reflection offer nutrient density for the soul that directly affects the body.
There is no time to waste. Here is to your health!
For more insight into the actions of psychoneuroimmunology, read this: