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The Mind/Body Connection, Part II

Feb 16, 2018 | Integrated Care

Welcome back to Part II of The Mind/Body Connection. (Click here to brush up on Part I.) Now that you know all of the major players in the study of PNI (Psycho-neuro-immunology), I’ll connect the dots and recommend some strategies for staying positive and healthy!

-So what IS the connection?

  • Nervous System: Your Autonomic Nervous System plays a huge role in stimulating your hormonal production (Endocrine system) and response. The Autonomic Nervous System balance is an essential key for healthy functioning of the body, mind and emotions.
  • Immune Response: In short, stress is another form of infection, and the consequences of stress are controlled by the activation of circuits in our immune system that actually evolved to defend us against infection.
  • Basically, when we are feeling overwhelmed emotionally, depressed, or highly stressed, our immune system activates a whole cascade of events within our body, just as it would if we had an actual illness.
  • This means that sickness alone does not produce these changes in our bodies, emotional changes/shifts do the exact same thing to our bodies as any actual physical illness would.

-Examples of the Science behind PNI:

  • Bereavement: Studies show that recently widowed individuals, or those grieving the death of a loved one, are at an increased risk of death, and mortality in this population is twice as high within the first week of death of the deceased.
  • The gut: This is something that I would like to discuss in depth, but for now, I will keep it short. There is a strong association between stressful life events and the onset of symptoms in functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Cancer: Studies show that patients with a more positive outlook on life, and their health, in addition to quality psychological support can hugely impact the outcome of their disease in a very positive way, but the truth also goes for those with no psychological support, and negative outlooks.
  • HIV: Studies have found significant evidence that elevated levels of stress and diminished social support accelerates the progression of HIV infection.
  • Skin complaints: Psoriasis, eczema and asthma are all known to have psychological aspects to them. A stressful day/event can actually induce an asthma attack, or a psoriasis/eczema flare up.
  • Wound healing: The speed at which a surgical patient heals has been linked to psychological factors. This means that increased levels of fear or distress before surgery has been associated with worse outcomes, including longer stays in the hospital, more post-operative complications, and higher rates of re-hospitalization.  Patients with higher levels of depression and anxiety have significantly delayed healing.

So, what can you do help decrease the frequency or severity of negative thoughts?

  • Start your day with a prayer or positive thought.
  • Begin a daily meditation practice.
  • When feeling stressed or overwhelmed, use grounding techniques.
  • Take a few deep breathes, and shift your thinking to something else.
  • Take a walk outside, and look up! Studies show that people who look UP at the sky, are actually happier, plus a little Vitamin D from natural sunlight can help improve your mood.
  • If feeling negative about a particular situation, reflect on the potential positives that could result from this experience. For example, a lesson learned, or places/situations that would be best to avoid in the future.
  • Listen to your favorite song, or close your eyes and picture your favorite place/location.
  • Try guided meditation.
  • Drink peppermint tea, as it helps with restlessness, and promotes calmness.
  • Surround yourself with positive thinkers.
  • Be enthusiastic about life, and your journey, as we all have our own!
Dr. Herendira Valdez, PMHNP-BC

Dr. Herendira Valdez, PMHNP-BC

Valle del Sol

I am a Doctor of Nursing Practice/ Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a strong advocate of “whole-person/holistic” health, encouraging patients to explore, physical, mental, and social factors that may be contributing to the physical symptoms of their illness. I am fluent in English/Spanish, which allows me to connect with patients from various cultural backgrounds.