12 Jul PsychoNeuroImmunology – What is it?
Psychoneuroimmunology. Can you say that three times fast? It might be a mouthful to speak, read, or write, but this intricate mind-body connection is a game-changer in the medical field. And, we’ve only just begun to skim the surface. Here is what you need to know about psychoneuroimmunology and how it impacts your health.
What is Psychoneuroimmunology?
Psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, describes the close relationship between a person’s immunity, nervous system, and endocrine system. Previously, science had separated the mind and body, believing one had no influence over the other. However, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) proves otherwise and new research is showing that there is a substantial interaction between these three systems.
So, how does psychoneuroimmunology play a role in our mental and physical health? To start, it’s likely affecting our overall well-being more than we realize.
Why Does Psychoneuroimmunology Matter?
PNI has a special ability to merge holistic health and western medicine approaches. It validates long-standing holistic theories and provides tangible scientific proof. Although our understanding of PNI is continuing to grow and expand, we know one thing for sure: our mind’s effect on the body is exceptional. The three-way street between immunity, neurology, and endocrinology has life-altering impacts on us.
Personality types and character tendicinces have a big role to play in PNI. The immune system feeds off the mind and learns to respond in a similar way. For example, a fault-finding mindset often leads to a fault-finding immune system. Someone with this thought process unknowingly teaches their body to respond to sickness in a similar doubtful, critical, and likely rigid way. In other words, the body begins to find faults within itself.
Taking it a step further, consider the stereotypical “people-pleaser.” For someone who strives to please others above themselves, consciously or subconsciously, the body learns to ignore their own physiological needs. According to one study, even self-discrepancy resulted in weakened immune function. This behavior has also been classified as the “Type-C” personality and is highly correlated with the development of cancer (or the underactivity/negligence of the immune system).
The impacts of immunity, neurology, and endocrinology on one another is significant. Now, it’s our job to learn how to use this substantial connection to our benefit.
The Connection Between Psychoneuroimmunology and Autoimmunity
As we know by now, the body is intricately connected. As a result, PNI has a direct connection to autoimmunity. While autoimmune cases typically focus on physical symptoms, diagnostics, and a diet/lifestyle treatment (all of which are essential and beneficial), PNI is a highly underrepresented player. It’s now understood that the nervous system, including our thoughts and emotions, have a direct impact on our immune system. In fact, the root cause of autoimmunity can often be linked to the mind. The sooner we recognize and appreciate this impactful connection, the sooner we can pursue healing from autoimmune diseases.
How Trauma Affects Psychoimmunology
Interestingly, research has shown that those with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are at higher risk for autoimmunity. This is a prime example of how PNI works in the mind and body. The underlying trauma caused by PTSD directly impacts inflammation, gut integrity, and hormonal balance- all of which set the stage for autoimmunity to arise. In addition, childhood trauma or stress is correlated with an increased risk of autoimmunity in adult years.
The Impact of Gratitude on Psychoimmunology
Thanks to the mind-body influence of PNI, regularly expressing and feeling gratitude has immense healing powers. In fact, in the case of autoimmunity, gratitude (in addition to positivity and laughter) can work wonders. Gratitude has actually been shown to reduce inflammation, improve sleep, and boost mood.
More so, laughter has special medicinal properties, itself. According to Dr. Lee S. Berk at Loma Linda University’s School of Allied Health, “laughter helps optimize the hormones in the endocrine system, including decreasing the levels of cortisol and epinephrine, which lead to stress reduction. They have also shown that laughter has a positive effect on modulating components of the immune system, including increased production of antibodies and activation of the body’s protective cells, including T-cells and especially Natural Killer cells’ killing activity of tumor cells.” If this doesn’t explain the powerful and impactful influence of PNI, nothing does.
How to Support Psychoneuroimmunology
As a Functional Medicine Doctor and Mind-Body Practitioner, psychoneuroimmunology is at the forefront of my practice. In working with patients, I assess the whole body, including physical, mental, and energetic factors. In the case of autoimmunity, every factor has a part to play. The key is to address every factor, together, as well as their interactions.
Learning to reframe the mindset, while implementing psychology tools is a great approach to supporting your psychoneuroimmunology. Here are a few ways to do so:
- Journaling- The practice of daily journaling is an intentional way to increase gratitude, introspectiveness, and the mind-body connection. It allows us to begin to reframe our mindsets by focusing on the positive, instead of the negative. Once the mind learns to focus on the positive, the body will follow suit.
- Do Nothing– Believe it or not, but allowing time to intentionally do nothing is a highly underrated health tool. Freeing the mind and body of distraction, performance, and stress can work wonders for health- from head-to-toe. Moral of the story: spend more time doing nothing and appreciate the present.
- Speak Your Needs– Learn to speak your needs and share your thoughts. Think of a few trusted people in your life, like a spouse, parent, or best friend. Don’t be afraid to share your physical or mental needs with them. After all, we all have needs!
- Laugh More– You know what they say, laughter in the best medicine. And, it’s a great way to boost endorphins. Watch a funny movie or spend more time with a humorous friend. Laughter is actually known to improve your immunity!
It’s no secret that psychoneuroimmunology is a complex, and often confusing, concept. With years of experience and training in this field, I’ve worked with countless patients to improve their psychoneuroimmunology, heal their autoimmunity, and pursue vibrant, healthy lives. For more expert guidance on psychoneuroimmunology and its effects on your health, apply to work with me, here.