Mastering Your Mind: The Study of Psychoneuroimmunology and How Fear Negatively Impacts Your Health
Point to Ponder: When experiencing fear, what do you do?
Have you ever heard of psychoneuroimmunology? I can barely say it so let’s just abbreviate it to PNI. It’s the study of how what we think (psycho) changes the brain (neuro) and it affects the immune system. American author, journalist and UCLA professor by the name of Norman Cousins was one of the earliest heroes in the science of immunology (the study of how the nervous system and immune system interact). He was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis. In its advanced stages, the condition can lead to total debilitation, pain and fusion of the spine. Knowing what he knew about the brain/body connection, Norman made the decision to not let the diagnosis limit his life, so he decided to cure himself by laughter. When in pain, rather than take pills, he watched funny movies as often as possible and focused on high quality sleep. Years later, there were no signs of the arthritis.
In the book Life Force by Tony Robbins, Norman shares this fear-based story: "During a football game in Los Angeles, a few people became ill with food poisoning symptoms. The doctor who treated them ascertained they’d all had Coca-Cola from one of the two dispensing machines. Not knowing if the soda’s syrup had been contaminated or the machines’ copper piping had corroded, he didn’t want anyone else to be exposed so a warning was addressed, describing the symptoms of the sick individuals, along with the recommendation to not drink any more Coca-Cola." This is where it gets crazy! "Within minutes, the whole football stadium became a sea of retching people–including many who hadn’t gone to either machine. Five ambulances shuttled back and forth to bring people to a nearby hospital. Later that day, everyone received confirmation there was nothing poisonous in the Coca-Cola machines and soon thereafter, the people who were sick and throwing up in the hospital stopped throwing up. Norman calls this “mass-induced hypnosis”- an acute physical reaction caused completely by someone’s mind."
Here's another staggering fear-based statistic: According to the CDC, the number-two mortality risk factor for people with COVID, just behind obesity, was anxiety and fear-related disorders. Fear was more deadly for COVID patients than severe diabetes, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart disease.
Fear can be a good thing and help protect us, but if uncontrolled and undirected, fear turns into crisis and becomes dangerous, life-altering and life-threatening. Fear can cause shortness of breath, cause our temperatures to rise and can make us vomit. So whether or not we’re dealing with a what-if scenario or real-time fearful situation, controlling and properly directing our mind is critical.
As a recovering what-if worrier, my solution to fear and worry is prayer, connection with others, time spent outdoors, exercise, devotionals and time spent digging into the Bible. When I do find myself worrying, I can draw a straight line correlation to less time on all of the above and more time reading/watching the news and social media.
For you, maybe it’s something else. What’s most important is when experiencing fear, you find a healthy way to redirect your mind and release the fear that is inhibiting your ability to feel, function and live your most beautiful life!
Action Item: When finding yourself in a fearful/anxious state, gain control of your thoughts, redirect your mind and breathe. Focus on the best case scenario and connect with someone who can help ease your mind. Significantly reduce your time watching/reading the news and on social media.