Scientists once believed that the mind and the body were separate, that one didn’t influence the other. Today we know that isn’t the case. Your stress levels and general mental state can have profound effects on the strength of your immune system. As someone who’s been through cancer several times, I have a great respect for my immune system.

Our immune systems don’t just help fight off illnesses like the flu or the common cold. It also deals with cancerous cells on a daily basis. Have you heard of older people, who were otherwise fairly healthy, dying of pneumonia? Their immune system wasn’t functioning as effectively as possible. Have you ever thought of the fact that the strength of your immune system can affect how long you live? A strong immune system keeps you healthy no matter what your age.

What affects our health and immune system?

1.  Cortisol is an enemy of the immune system. During times of stress, the level of cortisol rises in the body. The body recognizes this increase as an indicator of the fight or flight response and responds by limiting other body functions, including the immune system. Prolonged stress keeps the immune system in a compromised state, which increases the likelihood of getting sick.

2.  Stress has also been shown to increase the risk of developing immune-based diseases. These include arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, asthma, and lupus. In time, it’s believed that science will show that many other diseases are influenced by stress.

3.  Positive social interaction reduces stress and boosts immunity. Enjoying time with others has been shown to lower stress hormones and boost immune activity for several hours afterward. Get out and enjoy time with other people.

4.  Listening to relaxing music or getting a massage is also beneficial. What activity nourishes your body and soul? Whether that’s music, a massage, being out in nature, getting a manicure, schedule in time to enjoy those things. Make a list of the activities that you find relaxing. Commit to doing at least one of these every day — even if just for 5 minutes. Also, have some things that you can do in your car and at work to de-stress there also.

5.  Laughter has a powerful impact on immune function. Record the TV shows that make you laugh and try to watch one for at least a few minutes each day. Read a few jokes from a book or online during your breaks at work. Listen to Comedy Central on your iPod. Spend time with funny people! You’ll get the benefit of positive social interaction and laughter.

6.  Practice gratitude. Become aware of not only the big things you are thankful for, but also the little things.  Did a car pull out of a really close parking space at the grocery store when it’s pouring down rain? Did someone unexpectedly help you with a big project? Did you find a penny? A great exercise is to write down 5 things you are grateful for before getting into bed each night. It lifts your spirit and you go to sleep feeling truly blessed instead of worrying. Gratitude is so powerful on so many levels.

7.  Use positive affirmations to enhance your mood. Positive thoughts lead to positive feelings. Repeat positive affirmations on a regular basis, especially during periods of stress. Keep your mind occupied with something positive. Make a list of positive affirmations that resonate with you.

8.  Celebrate your successes. Experience success by setting goals you can reach. Big, audacious goals are great, but be sure to have a few easier goals, too. Be happy with your small successes, and celebrate when you reach them. Your immune system will reward you, too.

9.  Exercise patience. Impatience creates stress. Ask yourself, “Will this really matter 5 years from now?” Most things are not life-changing, so breathe, relax, and enjoy the extra time you spend waiting. The time will pass regardless of how you spend it. Stay calm.

10. Be happy! What makes you happy? Figure it out and spend more time doing it. Read, knit, dance, meditate, grill outdoors, play with your dog, write, go on a picnic. These aren’t frivolous things. They make life enjoyable and keep you healthy.

Did you know that you can lower your stress hormones in 2 minutes or less? It’s a technique I teach my clients so they can shift away from a stressful state to a more relaxed state at any time and anywhere. Contact me if you want to learn more.

Don’t underestimate the power your mood and mindset have on your health. Optimism, happiness, fun, love, and success keep your immune system in good working order. Our psychology definitely affects our physiology. Being happy and positive doesn’t just feel good. It also strengthens your health, and when you worry and stress less, you will naturally have more energy.

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