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Psychoneuroimmunology refers to the study of the interconnection of consciousness (psycho), the Central Nervous System- CNS (neuro) and the defense system of the body (immunology) and the implications that the interconnection has towards physical health. Psychoneuroimmunology has been widely used to explain how psychological approaches reduce the severity of medical problems (Lorentz, 2006, p. 1).
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) was outlined by scientists who were interested in studying the interconnection of the mind and the body. The scientists discovered that stress and unhealthy emotions increase disease vulnerability. They established that stress regulates the activities of the systems of the body and thus it interferes with their ability to maintain health. Their ideas have helped to better understand mind-body connections that are facilitated by the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Thus, diseases have been proven to have both physical and psychological aspects whereby both are interrelated. Stress has been proven to increase the chances of contracting diseases like coronary diseases, cancers, etc. It is therefore important for health practitioners to understand the adverse effects of stress in health and know the various remedies available for stress-related diseases (Karren, 2009, p. 1).
Stress and Psychoneuroimmunology
Stress is a usual occurrence in life. It starts with an unconscious reaction to demand. When such a demand becomes excessive, the stress becomes unbearable and results in diseases. Psychoneuroimmunology prioritizes stress and its effects on the body. Scientists have shown that stress has tremendous effects on the activities of the endocrine, nervous and immune systems and its presence or absence in a person may translate to the presence or absence of health problems. The following are the intricate details of how stress interferes with the systems of the body causing diseases (Quinlan, 2008, p. 1).
When a person is faced with stressful conditions like the death of a loved one, the normal functioning of his/her body organs (homeostasis has interfered). This kind of stress is known as cognitive stress. Stress can also stem from non-cognitive causes. An example is a bacterial infection. Psychoneuroimmunology is normally focused on cognitive stress (Lorentz, 2006, p. 3).
The responses that are normally triggered by psychological stressors do not have clear mechanisms. One of the explanations of the effects of stress on the immune system is the fact that the brain and the immune system share a transmission mechanism, the neurotransmitters. This means that the CNS (Central Nervous System) can convey information related to cognitive stimuli to receptors on immune cells through hormonal pathways. This causes changes in the immunity of the individual since the receptors of the immune system to regulate the immune system. This is the physical explanation of how the brain influences the acquisition and aggravation of the disease. Alterations in the immune system occur mostly in the lymph nodes, the spleen and the lymphoid tissues. Thus, stressed individuals have a high risk of suffering autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and rheumatic arthritis (Lorentz, 2006, p. 5).
Another important thing to point out is that individual behavioral characteristics determine how well an individual is equipped to fight the influence of stress on their immune system. The immune system of passive individuals responds well to stressors due to low cortisol levels (Lorentz, 2006, p. 6).
The mere fact that an individual is under stress does not amount to immune system dysfunction (Karen, 2009, p. 1). The ability of a person to live positively with stress determines the effect stress will have on the person. Thus, the perception of stress may be more significant to the immune system than the presence of stress. This can be evidenced by the fact that people with a lot of stress and a good coping ability are expected to have better immunity than people with negligible stress levels and poor coping ability (Quinlan, 2008, p. 1).
Psychoneuroimmunology is widely applied in cross-disciplinary situations. A variety of professionals employ the ideas of Psychoneuroimmunology in their practice. These include psychiatrists, nurses, medical doctors, psychotherapists, psychologists etc. Let us have a look at some of the most successful mind-body therapies evident in contemporary psycho-practice (Lorentz, 2006, p. 8).
This is a process by which an individual is made to visualize the changes he desires. A patient is made to maintain optimism in his/her situation and thus they are made to believe that their problems are curable. An example is a case in which a patient is made to draw an analogy between their condition and a cut on their hand. Visualization gained popularity when it was used by cancer patients to fight cancer cells in the 1970s. Researchers believe that imagery has the potential to reduce stress. This leads to boosting the defense system and thus improving the potential of the body to fight diseases. It is believed to give people a positive point of view and thus it is a sufficient benefit on its own (Quinlan, 2008, p. 1).
Biofeedback refers to a mind-body therapeutic process aimed at altering blood pressure, brain activity, heart rate and other involuntary body functions. Popular forms of biofeedback in contemporary practice include electrodermal (EDR) and electromyography (EMG). These aid people in changing involuntary processes in their bodies by proving to monitor and provide therapeutic video-auditory information. The effectiveness of biofeedback made the scientists who started it believe that it will replace drugs in the future. In as much as their belief is, somehow, unrealistic, biofeedback has been proven to help in treating a variety of diseases. Biodiversity is thus very instrumental in the treatment of diseases that are caused and exacerbated by stress. These include migraines and anxiety (Quinlan, 2008, p. 1).
Although hypnosis has no scientific evidence, it is among the most topics and has seen unbelievable success. It can be described as self-induced and centered attention that aids people in relaxation and control of the functions of the body. As can be seen from this description, biofeedback and guided imagery are a part of hypnosis therapy. Patients are thus assisted by therapists to relax and allow interaction with their unconscious mind. This process has seen so much success that can only be explained by psychobiological reasons (Quinlan, 2008, p. 1).
A discussion of Psychoneuroimmunology would be incomplete without discussing the idea of a placebo. It can be defined as a dose administered to a patient that has no medicinal value to help them in shaping their minds towards a cure. This causes a response in the body that beefs up their immunity and therefore speeds healing. Other mind-body interventions include therapeutic touch, humor, etc (Lorentz, 2006, p. 5).
Other applications of Psychoneuroimmunology
Mind-body therapies can also be applied in other settings. For instance, prayer has been shown to help people maintain a positive attitude that has a positive impact on their immune system and even their day-to-day activities. Having mind-body therapies can also help to improve academic and professional lives through the stated maintenance of a positive attitude towards these activities. For instance, a student who maintains a positive attitude towards a certain subject is likely to perform better in that subject than other subjects. Similarly, if a person has a positive attitude towards his/her job, he/she will perform better in the job. This can be explained by psycho-neuro inter-relationship (Karen, 2009, p. 1).
The mind has been proven to have an indubitable effect on the activities of the systems of the body. It is thus true that the mind can be used to supplement medication in curing health problems occurring in these systems. Medical practitioners should therefore focus on identifying mental problems like stress in their patients to ensure that the conditions do not create an unfavorable environment for healing.
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Mind-body therapies are very effective in combating stress and other disease symptoms. Mind-body therapies are characterized by a number of benefits. These include cost-effectiveness, fewer hospitalizations and doctor visits, etc. The mind-body interventions increase the well-being of the patients without side effects. As stated, apart from their role in reducing stress, mind-body interventions relieve chronic-disease symptoms. Major problems like depression, coronary diseases and suicides have their roots in stress and its effects. This necessitates the integration of mind-body therapeutic techniques with formal medical practice due to their ability to prevent these conditions (Lorentz, 2006, p. 1). Medical practitioners should thus ensure that they combine these techniques with medication and other forms of treatment to ensure efficacy in treatment.
Karren, K. (2009). Mind/Body Health: The Effects of Attitudes, Emotions, and Relationships. New York. Barnes and Noble.
Lorentz, M. (2006). Stress and Psychoneuroimmunology Revisited: Using mind-body interventions to reduce stress. Alternative Journal of Nursing. Issue 11. Web.
Quinlan, J. (2008). Psychoneuroimmunology. Web.