Mindfulness and the Immune Response

Mindfulness Can Boost Viral Immunity PLUS Reduce Stress

There is no doubt that the best defenses against the spread of the Covid-19 virus are frequent hand washing and social distancing.

But if we also practice mindfulness (that is, noticing your thoughts and refocusing them on the present moment) we can enhance our defense by protecting our immune systems against the harmful effects of chronic stress. That’s the finding of preventive medicine and psychoneuroimmunology experts who reviewed 20 well-controlled studies with over 1600 participants. Their findings were published in a 2016 article in the Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences.

Think of your mind as a spotlight with the ability to focus on the past (where anger and guilt may linger), the future (where fear resides) or the present (where mindfulness can provide a refuge from past problems or future worries). Our feelings influence the facts we see.  So if past worries or future fears put you in a bad mood, your “spotlight” is more likely to focus on  just the bad about yourself and others.  And if you just see the bad, what kind of decision are you likely to make?  A bad decision!  Thus, without mindfulness to change your “stupid vision” into “total vision,” the cycle of stress can make life emotionally worse through fear, anger and guilt; and physically worse by weakening your immune system.

“Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction,” created by Dr. Jon Cabat Zinn, is a well-researched training program that can break this cycle. You may also wish to explore one of many online apps including, Insight Timer, Calm or Headspace, which is especially good for children and families.

Another option is to download a free workbook designed to help three generations to have “Less Stress, Better Health and More Love.” It was funded by the Ralph Wilson Foundation and is available for free from www.CaringTeams.org.  It teaches mindfulness through four “Satisfaction Skills” (awareness, affirmations, assertiveness and acceptance) and shows how two little poems can help you and your “caring team” (friends, family, aides, professionals) to work more closely with your doctor.  It presents a new paradigm in which the same skills can be used to enhance each piece of your wellness puzzle (i.e., physical, emotional, social, spiritual).

You will also find videos and helpful suggestions whether you are a caregiver or someone who works in  health care, mental health, human resources or a faith community.

Dr. Tom DeLoughry directs the Center for Health Management, and has served as the director of wellness and disease management at Independent Health as well as an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Buffalo.  His book of short stories, “What I Wish I Knew” was honored by AARP’s Social Impact Award as a “simple mind-body-spirit program for seniors, adults and teens of any faith, or no faith.”