Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to Use Your Mind to Boost Your Immune System for ALS Wellness

It’s official - - we’re back to school, back to work and - - back to worrying about germs!
And if you are one of the many folks already living with a serious chronic medical condition, fighting off this year’s cold virus is one more challenge your immune system simply doesn’t need.

What can we do? Is it back to loading up on hand sanitizer, herbal mixtures and disinfectant sprays?  

Or, how about simply not worrying?

The latest discovery in the science of mind-body health is that our body’s immune system can only operate at optimum levels when we are thinking and feeling certain emotions.

No, we can’t think ourselves healed; that hasn’t been proven yet. But new research has shown that specific thoughts cause our brain to send out signals that allows our immune system to either continue flowing or to shut down. Thanks to new brain imaging technologies such as MRIs and CAT scans, scientists can see in real time parts of the brain that become active or inactive when we are feeling happy or sad, anxious or calm, confident or fearful. Simultaneous measurement of a corresponding rise and fall in immune cells completes the story.

So how does one impede or shut down the immune system? Get angry; hold a grudge. Try some serious worry about your health condition and imagine dire future outcomes. Spend a few hours on the Internet; reading and absorbing various rantings on Facebook, Twitter or the like. In other words, bring on your body’s ‘fight or flight’ stress response.

In our brains, the stress response activates an immediate release of nerve chemicals, adrenaline-like brain hormones as well as cortisol that combine to increase heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, mental alertness and ultimately prepares us to fight or run away. And during all this activity, the immune cells receive a signal to ‘stand down.’

Our stress response is life-protecting, but when sustained too long, becomes dangerous to our own body. We become chronically stressed, experience adrenal fatigue, and without the protection of our immune cells, we’re vulnerable to every virus that gets passed around school or work.

Esther Sternberg MD, Professor of Medicine and Founding Research Director for the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona at Tucson, has devoted her career to studying the relationship between health and emotions.

In her book, The Balance Within, Dr. Sternberg describes an interesting study of office workers comparing one group who received training in relaxation techniques and quiet contemplation to a group without the training. Flu shots were administered to the entire workforce and several weeks later both groups were tested for antibody production. Blood tests revealed that the group with the relaxation training had an enhanced immune response to the flu vaccine. The data is finally coming in connecting health and emotions!

So how do we put the brakes on an unwanted stress response?

By taking in a slow deep breath - - and letting out again.

Even just one slow breath activates the Vagus nerve, which runs from the base of our brain down through our heart and into the belly. The quick relay signals a slow down for our heart rate, lowers blood pressure, stops the production of adrenaline and cortisol and - - allows our immune system to flow freely once again.

But, taking a slow breath is only the first step. In order to fully ‘get out of your head’ and put a stop to the negative internal dialogue - - you need to bring your attention to ‘the present moment.’

For example, become aware of your body’s posture; adjust it if needed. Notice sounds, feel the air temperature and smell aromas. Then, continue to stay in the present moment by engaging with your surroundings. Observe with calm neutral thoughts, pay attention to people and activity. Allow your participation to be energizing rather than stress-full.

Try it - - right now.

I’ll bet you feel more relaxed already. Take another slow breath, relax your belly and imagine your immune system ramping up again.

Stress doesn’t cause the flu or a cold. But stress does impair our immune system’s ability to protect and heal.  Add the following three steps to your daily self-health routine - - and just maybe this winter you won’t need to keep a pharmacy in your kitchen!

To stop the stress response and begin the relaxation response:

1.       Slow rhythmic breathing.
2.       Bring your attention to the present moment.
3.       Continue to engage with your surroundings and those around you.

Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger

Its not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.
Hans Selye

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  1. Even though we don't think we can think ourselves well, it doesn't hurt to try...while recovering from bronchitis, a 3-4 month process, I repeated to myself during the last few weeks " I AM well, I AM healthy, I have a strong immune system", and I truly believe it helped turn things around

    1. What a wonderful experience Julie! Thank you for sharing it. I read your experience as having focused on the state of being well to the point of excluding any negative thinking - - which did allow your immune system to do its work. Go ahead and take the credit for "owning" (mentally & physically) the ability to make a difference! Future technology will continue to confirm the mind-body connection. I wish you continued good health, my friend!

  2. Great message in this blog.....things I need to remember more! Thank you for sharing your wisdom!! I love you!


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