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A Positive Outlook is Always a Plus Especially in a Pandemic

To stop thinking so much is addition by subtraction for your immune response.

When we are concerned about infectious disease we all want to strengthen our defenses to protect our health. In biological terms that means your immune system. Our physiological gatekeepers and biological body guards attack anything that is inside but should be kept outside of us. But can we actually beef up the body guards?

Our response to stressors affects our health. Research in psychoneuroimmunology (your word for the day, or the week even) shows that your immune system response is influenced by bidirectional communication between the central nervous system and the endocrine system. This link between brain and hormones also connects our negative emotions and our physiological function.

Chronic stress negatively impacts immune system function, something that is amplified as we age. Clearly doing whatever you can do to strengthen your immune system will help you battle bugs to the best of your ability.

This means we need to stop thinking so much about the implications of events around us that are outside of our control. But here’s the important bit: I'm suggesting you help make your immune system stronger by stopping from making it weaker. So many things in our world and inside of our bodies we cannot improve because they are already optimized by evolution. But our big brains do endow us with great skill at making things worse. To help yourself you need to do a little addition by subtraction.

Some ways to work on this are physical activity and implementing any of a host of mind-body practices. From the simple steps of a mindful walk, to mediation, yoga, or martial arts (my go-to), all of these practices and many more can help you implement mental vaccination against viral thinking. While studies are still few and all details far from clear, recent meta-analysis and systematic review suggest that mindfulness mediation can alter inflammatory response, immune system function, and biological markers of aging.

Our stress response is driven by reactions to external events. You can help boost your immune system by stopping the thinking that's making your body overreact. While this won’t make your immune system stronger in an absolute sense, it will help reduce the weakening and thus your overall immune function. To protect yourself against viruses, then, a good thing to try is using your ability to inoculate yourself against viral thinking.

The power of thought all by itself isn’t going to protect anyone from malignant microbes. But you can give your optimized physiology the best chance it has at doing its job to protect you by protecting your thoughts from viral thinking. Adding this approach to public health guidelines and the use of any available or imminent external vaccines or treatments gives you the best possible defense for your health.

© E. Paul Zehr (2020).

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