Mind Over Immune System   Leave a comment

I just got over a minor cold, again. I had a cold before Christmas, was fine for the holidays, and then got another cold on New Year’s Eve. Ordinarily I’ve got a really good immune system and only get a couple of colds during an entire winter. I can’t think of any time when I’ve gotten two colds within a 4 week period. The thing with both of these colds is that they were both psychosomatic and utterly preventable. I’m a big believer that most of our illnesses are psychosomatic, either directly or indirectly. In this case, they were both directly psychosomatic, caused by a psychologically depressed immune system.

The first cold has a bit of back story: When we moved into our new house we knew that the kitchen faucet had a leak, but before we could find/fix the leak it stopped. We weren’t paying attention, so in mid-December when I realized that the leak had restarted it had already pretty well soaked the cabinet under the sink, and needed to be addressed pronto. Using our (limited) plumbing knowledge we found the source of the leak, made the appropriate obvious attempt to fix it (replacing the supply line), and made it worse instead. The next day I thought of something else to try, which didn’t work and exhausted all of our knowledge and ideas. Since we were days from our holiday party, and soon to leave for a long vacation, trying to find and schedule a plumber on a short time frame seem like a sketchy idea. That evening I spent about an hour and half feeling like a complete failure as a responsible homeowner. By the time I went to bed, I had a cold despite the fact that when I had gotten home from work I had felt perfectly healthy. Isn’t immediate feedback great! 😦

This latest cold is more of a mystery. On New Year’s Eve day I felt healthy, active, and glad to be home. It was a really good day up to the point in the afternoon when I decided to go for a walk. As soon as I stepped out of the house my mind started on a very negative thought spiral. It came out of nowhere, but for some reason I was not able to shake it. After the 2-mile self-pity party and a cry in the shower, we went out to celebrate the holiday. By the time we got to our friend’s house I had the sniffles, and before midnight I knew I had a full blown head cold.

The mind can also prevent colds, not just cause them. But the stories about how I caught these colds make much better stories than the ones where I catch myself in time and manage to avert impending illness by changing my mindset and using all my immune-boosting tricks.

Now that I’m reminding myself, nearly all of my colds are psychosomatic. Personally, I suspect that is true of most people. Did you know that scientists do studies in which they plant live cold viruses in people’s noses, and many of them never get sick? That’s a good thing since most of us are probably exposed to hundreds of potentially harmful viruses and bacteria each day. It seems to me like it is not so much the exposure, but the power of the immune system that determines whether or not someone gets sick. The same immune system that is affected by diet, exercise, sleep, stress, psychological state, and environmental factors. In grad school my colds were like calender-work. During/after every major exam or project, I got a major cold with fever. Needless to say, I was a little bit stressed in grad school and my immune system couldn’t handle any increases in that stress level.

Let this serve a warning to all: avoid high psychological stress situations and negative thinking spirals during cold season.


Posted January 8, 2011 by mayakey in health, psychology

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