Motivation Monday: How being positive can boost the immune system
I repeatedly post about how our emotions influence our lives and our physiology. And one area of body function that is known for being closely tied to our emotional experiences is the functioning of our immune system.
Our emotional state influences how well we are protected from infection and the degree of inflammation that we may suffer from. Interestingly, the most powerful emotion in fighting inflammation is the feeling of awe.
While there have been many studies on the impact of emotions on physical health, in general, these emotions are most often all lumped together. Negative emotions like grief, sadness, shame, fear, and anger are all viewed as having pretty much the same effects.
The same is true for all positive emotions grouped into the general category of optimism or positive mood. Research is now trying to answer if all positive emotions are created equally or if there is a way to boost certain body functions by focusing on experiencing more of a particular positive feeling.
Recent studies stress the importance of fostering positive feelings, especially awe, in our lives to reduce inflammation and positively influence the immune system. Awe is often linked to feelings of social connectedness and social exploration.
So from a practical perspective, the first step is to become more socially engaged. This goal is fundamental if you are older or dealing with depression, because these situations often lead to social isolation. Here are some recommendations to become more socially engaged:
- Encourage positive relationships. A person is never too old to learn how to be a better friend, parent, mentor, or better listener. Personal development is a never-ending process.
- Get connected online. Using email, the Internet, and Web-based social networks such as Facebook or Twitter can make a big difference in helping people feel more connected.
- Join a club or church. In today’s world, there are always opportunities to find places to socialize positively and healthfully.
- Volunteer. There is perhaps no greater opportunity to feel connected than finding a way to volunteer time and energy towards a greater good. It is maybe the most potent way of connecting to people outside of our most profound personal relationships.
The health benefits of increased socialization are significant. Many of these benefits may be related to fighting inflammation. Studies indicate that people who feel connected and have strong social relationships have lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.
Next, I would ask the question, “What inspires you and causes you to feel awe?” What research shows is that something as simple as listening to music, walking in nature, or being creative, can have a positive impact on health. These effects may be related to feelings of awe.