How to Use Your Immune System to Stay Healthy

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Conventional take-a-pill, have-an-operation medicine has largely failed to combat chronic, painful conditions such as arthritis, asthma and allergies. And conventional medicine does not always have adequate treatment against cancer, AIDS and heart disease. But we can help fight illness with our minds. Relaxation techniques, exercise and good nutrition can help a lot, but they’re not enough.

Short-sighted: Most corporate-sponsored stress reduction programs concentrate on relaxation techniques rather than facing up to sources of stress and working to solve them. The pivotal psychological factor in illness is not whether well encounter stress. That is a given. It’s how we cope with stress.

As we grow older, our bodies find it harder and harder to fight disease as our immune systems begin their natural decline. Yet by developing certain aspects of our personality, which I call Immune Power traits, we can help fend off disease or reduce its symptoms.

All seven traits described below are directly or indirectly linked to a vigorous immune system. All are backed by scrupulous research showing that the mind can contribute to our risk of, and recovery from, almost any disease involving a dysfunctional immune system, from migraines to rheumatoid arthritis.

A person with an Immune Power Personality finds joy and meaning, even health, in the challenges of life. Stressful events are handled with acceptance, flexibility and a willingness to learn and grow.

We are all born with the potential to have Immune Power traits and can reawaken them at any age. It doesn’t mean you have to change certain fixed parts of your personality.

The point is to draw on the strengths of your own character to assume challenges and cope with losses and other stressful events that you can’t control.

Seven immune power traits

Explore one new trait per week, continuing the previous ones. You’re likely to find many of your headaches, stomachaches, back pain or other symptoms fading away.

• ACE factor: Attend, Connect, Express.

Awareness of your mind-body signals the opposite of repression and denial strengthens the heart and the immune system.

  • Attend to your feelings.
  • Connect feelings to your consciousness.
  • Express feelings appropriately.

You may find out that you haven’t been paying attention to the real cause of your ongoing distress.

• Capacity to confide

Sharing your concerns with others actually enhances your immune response. It’s the opposite of being bottled up verbally and emotionally. Helpful: Ask the person to listen in silence.

Exercise: For 20 minutes on three to four consecutive days, write down your deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic event you can remember. If nothing comes to mind, choose an event that symbolizes a set of emotions that had a long-lasting effect on you

• Hardiness

Hardy individuals can resist the slings and arrows of life. They seek support to bolster their self-worth not to reinforce the poor me syndrome. The hardy share the following three major characteristics:

  • Commitment and wholehearted involvement in their work, relationships and activities.
  • Control over their life circumstances, facing problems with creativity and confidence. (Control freaks manipulate others completely different.)
  • Challenge (that may be in the occasion when stressful events strike). People with a sense of challenge adapt well to change.

To develop the three Cs, focus your awareness on the sources of stress, then develop an action plan to restore balance. Sometimes no amount of focusing can lead to positive change.

Alternative: Compensatory self-improvement. Identify a related problem that you can resolve.

  • Assertiveness

Standing up for yourself reduces your sense of victimization. Being a martyr can be a destructive way to treat your mind and body. Passivity is unhealthful in the long term.

Example: In many cases, AIDS and cancer patients who actively participated in their own care lived longer than those who did not.

• Affiliative trust

The desire and capacity for a positive, loving relationship based on mutual respect and trust actually boosts your defenses against a whole range of physical symptoms. Unconditionally giving love relaxes you and changes your outlook.

Example: A 42-year-old man with severe heart disease, tired of surgery, forced himself to suppress his chronically hostile behavior by thinking through situations before reacting to them. He began to spend more time with his family. His chest pain and shortness of breath were quickly relieved and eventually disappeared.

• Altruism

Assisting others provides a helper’s high, which promotes both health and spirit. Adopt four characteristics of healthy helping…

  • Personal contact: Writing a check isn’t the same as connecting with someone. Teach someone to read, serve food to the homeless, volunteer at a day-care center offer advice to new business owners.
  • Frequency: The ideal frequency is about the same as for meditation or exercise: Roughly two hours a week. Following a schedule will help you maintain your commitment.
  • Helping strangers: We exercise more freedom of choice in helping strangers than family members or close friends. Bonding with strangers helps get rid of a sense of isolation.
  • Letting go of results: Like any gift, your time should be given with no strings attached. Helping must be its own reward.

• Self-complexity

We boost our physical health by being able to draw support from many vital selves to sustain our energy, wellbeing and sense of purpose through painful times. For a sense of balance, foster diverse interests. People with more self-complexity have less depression and illness when self-esteem in one part of their lives is temporarily drained.

Draw a blueprint

Find your own path to each of these health promoting traits. If one is entirely out of character and unappealing to you, you may decide to reject it. Keep in mind, though, that the interconnections between traits provide the fullest benefits and a balanced life.

A positive aspect of one trait offsets the negative in another.

Example: A person who asserts his needs can give openly to others without becoming a victim. Focus on the Immune Power traits where you need the most help.

Example: Someone who constantly yells at people would benefit from affiliative trust.

If you feel set in your ways, go about the process gently and patiently. Recognize that you can heal some wounds even lifelong ones by confronting the aspects of your personality underlying them gently and persistently.

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