By now you are probably aware of the many benefits that happiness and positivity can have on your heath. But did you also know that when life throws you a curve ball and you begin to feel hopeless about your situation, your immune system may take that as a cue to begin to shut down? Learn about this phenomenon and what you can do to turn it around and become health-empowered in 2017!
Back in October of this year, I took a look at how pessimists and optimists view the challenges that happen to them in their lives. In that blog, I
explained how pioneer psychologist Martin Seligman re-examining data gathered from the Grant Study to discover that those with overall pessimistic attitudes face increasing health problems, especially as they age.
In 1982, Madelon Visintainer, a Yale-trained psychiatrist and a colleague of Seligman’s, decided to go one step further. She wanted to learn in more detail what the link was between negative attitude and disease.
Visintainer examined three sets of rats who had been injected with sarcoma cancer cells. The first set was subjected to “mild escapable shocks,” i.e. shocks that they could learn how to avoid by pressing a bar that would turn off the shocking mechanism. The second set was subject to “inescapable shocks,” i.e. no such mechanism to stop the shocks was available to them. The last set did not receive shocks but they were still injected with the cancer cells. All other factors, such as nutrition and exercise, were exactly the same among all the rats.
Within one month, as expected, roughly 50% of the un-shocked rats succumbed to the cancer. However, a whopping 70% of the rats who were subject to “escapable shocks” survived while only 27% of those who were administered “inescapable shocks” made it through. ( I do not agree and am saddened by the silent torture that so many animals experience in the name of “science” 🙁 )
What was equally as fascinating was what happened internally to the “inescapable shock” rats. Later studies discovered that T cells in the immune systems of these rats had ceased to multiply. Natural Killer cells, vital allies in fighting cancer, had also lost their “killer ability.”
It was almost as if once these rats had given up psychologically, they had signaled their immune systems to give up as well. On the other hand, by learning how to overcome a challenge, the “escapable shock” rats seemed to turn on even more of the immune system mechanisms that helped them fight disease.
“From these rats, we may conclude that our sense of control, ability to avoid victim-hood and feelings of hopefulness regarding our experiences, particularly the traumas we face, may affect whether we get sick or stay healthy,” remarks Lisa Rankin, MD in her book Mind over Medicine.
What You Can Do
The shocked rat study can provide a great metaphor for reflecting on how YOU respond when life “shocks” you with its unexpected twists and turns. Do you readjust and eventually land back on your feet or do you succumb long-term to overwhelm and hopelessness? My hope is that the information above will serve as a reminder of the power of your mind for boosting (or turning off) the healing mechanisms of your own body. Yes, your psychological state is that powerful– and science has proven it!
Modalities abound for helping you Heal Your Emotional Wounds that can compromise your Immune System. Here are a few of my favorites:
-Martin Seligman’s ABC Method;
–You Are the Placebo and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza
–Louise Hay’s affirmations and exercises as well as her best-selling book, You Can Heal Your Life
In a few days, we will step into a brand new year. Why not make 2017 the year that YOU step into a new reality of possibility and empowerment? If you don’t know where to start, remember that you don’t have to navigate the tricky terrain of thoughts and feelings alone. Try reaching out to a friend who will listen or contact a cognitive behavior therapist (or other type of counselor) in your area who can help you flush out what is going on and gently assist you in seeing your situation from a more holistic perspective.
No matter what our age, we all have the ability to learn and grow. With the right tools and a lot of persistence, over time we can change our thoughts to those that are life- affirming and in line with a healthy breast lifestyle. Instead of learned helplessness, we can live in a state of learned optimism and directly help our bodies to heal!