The concept of immunity dates back to Ancient Greece, when it was observed that people who had recovered from the plague were no longer susceptible to it.
However, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that professor Jacques Miller’s research into immune cells showed us how the body’s immune response worked. Since this breakthrough, scientists have learned a huge amount about the body’s amazing ability to protect itself from disease.
Now, research turns to the protective systems that exist in the brain as well as the body.
The “psychological immune system” is a self-protective procedure that the brain employs to help us deal with difficult emotional situations.
When we are exposed to a disease, the immune system kicks into gear and takes steps to protect us. The psychological immune system does the same with stress and strong emotions.
If you have a weak psychological immune system, you will find it much harder to deal with stress at work, bad news, or the loss of a loved one, for example.
Fortunately, you can train and strengthen your psychological immune system in much the same way that you can your normal immune system.
Read on to learn five ways to boost your psychological immune system.
1. Take a neutral approach to problems
The human brain has a negativity bias, so we tend to approach difficult situations with a pessimistic outlook.
Unfortunately, this often means that we experience bad situations far more intensely. It is also easy to get into a spiral of negative thinking, making it harder to navigate our emotions and move past them.
Ideally, it would be useful to change your mindset and take a positive approach to certain situations, but this is not always easy to achieve.
Additionally, being overly positive all the time can mean that you shut yourself off from strong emotions. This could actually weaken your psychological immune system.
As a compromise, try to take a neutral approach in difficult situations instead. Recognise that the situation is what it is, and you cannot necessarily change it.
Often, you will find that this makes it easier to remain pragmatic and reduce feelings of distress.
2. Set clear life goals
Life is unpredictable and you will always face stressful or difficult situations.
Having long-term goals can make it easier to manage these situations as you have something to aim for. It reminds you that your current situation is temporary and you must move through this period of your life to reach your long-term goals.
Short-term stresses may also be easier to manage if you know that they will help you achieve big life goals.
For example, if you feel anxious about giving a presentation at work, you may find it easier if you think about your career goals and how it will help you progress.
When you focus on the big picture in this way, you may be less likely to let everyday situations affect you.
3. Practise mindfulness
Typically, during a stressful situation, people get into a spiral of negative thinking. You may find yourself listing worst-case scenarios and ignoring any positives.
Fortunately, practising mindfulness can help you avoid this by breaking that cycle and encouraging you to be more proactive.
By practising mindfulness, you can focus on the present moment rather than staying in your head and allowing negative thinking to compound.
This then gives you space to find solutions to problems, rather than catastrophising about them.
There are many ways you can practise mindfulness including regular meditation.
You can also use the “five, four, three, two, one method”. Look around and name:
- Five things you can see
- Four things you can feel
- Three things you can hear
- Two things you can smell
- One thing you can taste.
This is a good grounding exercise that helps you regain control of your emotions.
It is also useful to simply pay more attention to your surroundings in your everyday life. If you are taking a walk, for example, make an effort to look around and notice small details about your environment.
4. Improve your sleep pattern
Poor sleep can damage your physical and mental health in several ways, including making you more susceptible to stress.
This is because, when you are sleep deprived, your brain releases more cortisol – the stress hormone – in an attempt to make you more alert.
Ultimately, this means that your base stress level is elevated so when you experience a strong emotion, you feel it more acutely than you normally would, and it is harder to deal with.
Fortunately, by improving your sleep, you can reset your psychological immune system and reduce your underlying stress levels. There are several ways to do this including:
- Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day
- Reducing device use in the evening
- Drinking less caffeine and alcohol
- Exercising regularly.
Making simple changes to your routine can make significant improvements to your mental health and boost your psychological immune system.
5. Learn acceptance
Negative emotions are a natural response to bad situations and should be welcomed, in certain instances.
They are often a defence mechanism that our brain employs to warn us off danger and, in the right situations, can be useful.
As such, you do not need to suppress them or learn to avoid them altogether. Instead, learn acceptance and allow those negative feelings to arise and pass naturally.
If you practise the other steps on this list, your psychological immune system will be stronger, and you should start to notice that those difficult emotions do not persist for as long.
When they do come up, simply acknowledge them and accept that they are there, and then let them go.
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This blog is for general information only and does not constitute advice. The information is aimed at retail clients only.