Can Our Minds Protect Us From Getting Sick?

Researchers have demonstrated that positive mental states like being happy and more mindful can in fact protect us from illness as well as reducing our stress hormones and improving our sleep. 
An analysis of 30 different studies on the link between our mental state and physical health showed that happy people are less likely to get sick and they live longer. In addition to this research, adults who completed an 8 week mindfulness meditation training have been shown to be far less at risk of respiratory infections. Finally, one study on emotional styles demonstrated that having a positive emotional style has been linked with resistance to rhinovirus and influenza. 
So it seems that our minds really can protect us from illness!

How is this possible? 

The link between our mental state and our health may be to do with the fact that stress and chronic unhappiness activates our fight or flight response. This is a prehistoric response designed to keep us safe in life threatening scenarios i.e. running in to a lion and mobilises our body to fight or run away from the threat. 
Over the years our stressors have changed, we are less threatened by tigers and lions and increasingly threatened by deadlines, financial strain, the state of the world and our demanding jobs. The key difference here is that these stressors are longer term and we can’t exactly run away from them, so our brain’s response, which is useful in the short term, isn’t so helpful. This leads to many of us experiencing elevated levels of stress hormones long term which can cause our blood pressure to rise and lower our immune response, making us more likely to get sick.  
As well as a weakened immune system, stress is linked with bad coping strategies like excessive drinking and craving those comfort foods. On the flip side, happier and less stressed people tend to take care of themselves better and live more healthily, watching their weight and engaging in more sports whilst moderating smoking and drinking. 

So What Can We Do? 

If we want to protect ourselves from illness we need to work to reduce the stress in our lives and increase the moments that bring us joy. This article on mindset shifts that will help you handle stress is a great way to start.