Can Our Emotions Affect The Immune System?

Multiple studies have focused on the relationship between emotion and health and have observed that this relationship plays a pivotal role in the area of health psychology. 

Emotions, a term we all must be aware of. It does not have any particular definition, but it is a term that is used for anger, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. Emotion can be explained as a strong feeling that is directed towards a specific thing. It is often accompanied by behavioral and psychological changes. Emotions are basically categorized into two - positive emotion and negative emotion. 

  • Positive emotions include a feeling of joy, gratitude, hope, pride, and happiness. Positive emotions promote the health of a person. 
  • Negative emotions include a feeling of anger, disgust, guilt, hate, and sadness. 

Since ancient times, people believe that psychological factors such as emotions are closely associated with the well being of a person. The arousal of emotions can have consequences for physical health. Generally, the negative emotional states are believed to be associated with an unhealthy pattern of psychological functioning, whereas positive emotional states are believed to be associated with healthier pattern. 

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Emotions can have a direct impact on the immune system. The immune system is the defense system in the human body which protects the body against infection due to bacteria, virus, or other foreign invaders. The primary function of the immune system in the human body is to identify and eliminate the foreign invaders that enter the body. 

It is reported that both negative and positive emotions can have an impact on the immune system. The immune system plays an important role in the body in protecting it from developing various infections. Both negative and positive emotions are associated with the release of secretory immunoglobulin A, which is an antibody acts as a first line defense for the common cold. Therefore, a positive emotion boosts the immune system, but it can be compromised due to negative emotions. 

Negative emotions are also associated with various psychological problems such as stress and depression. Stress can be defined as an event that causes various reactions within the body, affecting the state of mind. Every body responds to stress in a different way and can affect the health of an individual differently. There is a strong correlation between stress and negative emotions. Although stress is less visible, its effects can be life threatening

Research suggests that stress affects the immune system with serious consequences. Stress and emotions have long been known to be associated with various changes such as activation of the sympathetic adrenal medullary system, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical system, and other endocrine systems. The sympathetic adrenal medullary system, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical system are the two stress systems that affects various aspects of immunity. 

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The activation of the sympathetic adrenal medullary system is accompanied by the release of epinephrine, norepinephrine, catecholamines in the bloodstream. On the other hand, the activation of the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical system leads to the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone and corticosteroids. Therefore, prolonged activation of these substances could cause immune-suppressive and have detrimental effects on the body. There is compelling evidence that states that the response of negative emotions can cause immunosuppression and other types of immune dysfunctions. 

Negative emotions could also leads to the activation of the HPA axis through hypothalamic secretion of corticotropin releasing hormone which generally suppresses immune response due to the release of glucocorticoids from the adrenals.  

There are two emotional strategies and one or two studies have examined these strategies in relation to immune functioning. The two common immune regulation strategies include:

  • Cognitive reappraisal - It is said to be an adaptive strategy which includes changing the way an individual thinks regarding the situation in order to change its impact. 
  • Expressive suppression - It is said to be a maladaptive emotion regulatory strategy which works by inhibiting the emotional expressions. 

Studies observed that these two strategies can have an impact on the functioning of the immune system. Not only the immune system but also on the cardiovascular system in the body. 


Tags: How emotions affect health, Emotions and Health, Effects of negative thinking on Health, Relationship between Physical and Emotional Health, Psychoneuroimmunology

Annie is the oldest writer at Cheap Medicine Shop and is the subject and publishing expert. She has a graduate degree in medicines along with a diploma in creative writing.