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Our Psychological Immune System

Our Psychological Immune System

Tap into Innate Mental Well-being

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by Lori Carpenos

The immune system is “a highly specialized frontline defense that identifies and destroys disease-causing invaders.” This description, explained by a nutritionist, is quite compelling. It sounds like the latest high-tech missile, capable of not only identifying, but also destroying the enemy.

It is hard not to see the mind-body connection. Our mind is also capable of identifying the enemy; or, to put it another way, we can know our own thoughts and sometimes we unintentionally entertain thoughts that can hurt us. In this way, we can be our own worst enemies. The choice is ours, because we are equipped with free will. We can use our free will to accept negative thoughts about ourselves, and the world around us or we can choose to reconsider long-held beliefs. Since we are capable of thinking about our thoughts, one might say that nature provides our psyches with an immune system as well, capable of identifying and dismissing hurtful thinking.

However, just as many of us ignore the warning signs from our physical immune system, such as weight gain when we eat too much, or sluggishness when we don’t sleep enough, we often ignore psychological signs that try to tell us we’re putting our attention on thoughts that can hurt us. We are built with an arsenal of psychological defenses that can aid us. If we learn to spot the psychological warning signs and use our awareness, we can turn away from hurtful thinking.

Here are the warning signs:

• A bad feeling like anger or blame will alert us to the fact that our thinking is off track. Contrary to what we might believe, the bad feeling is not telling us to delve more deeply into what we’re thinking any more than stomach pain during a meal is telling us to go ahead and eat more. It is best to slow down and quiet the mind. Just as a stomachache tells us to stop eating, a bad feeling tells us to stop ruminating, stop overthinking, stop analyzing.

• A person you are speaking with gets a bad feeling. Some things are better left alone; it won’t be productive to bring up something that was troublesome in the past, as the past is over and done with. Why would you want to revisit something that was useless and hurtful in the past? It was bad enough you had to contend with it back then.

Most of us know it is not a good idea to pick a scab (even though it may feel good in the moment). At some point we learn that the scab allows the wound to heal, so it’s best to just let it do its job. A scab is a natural Band-Aid that is quickly provided and free of charge, compliments of Mother Nature. The natural formation of a scab to protect and heal physical wounds is a wonderful metaphor for the innate health of the mind; and if we know of its existence, we can maximize its benefits. Innate health is our default when we’re not covering it up with unproductive, negative thoughts.

Our innate health is like an immune system for the mind, though few know about it. Knowing something about it will keep us from picking our emotional scabs, so to speak, and shorten the distress time, while encouraging the healing process.

We’re so lucky that we are quite capable of dropping non-productive thoughts. Have you ever left an umbrella or scarf at a restaurant because you just didn’t remember to hang on to it? That’s how easy it is to forget something. If we’re not holding on to something, it’s easy to forget. In fact, it’s only the things that interest us that will stick with us. The best advice is to lose interest in things that are hurtful and not helpful to hang onto.

Question the things in life that interest you. Anything you ruminate about—question its importance. If you are honest with yourself, it probably will do little good to go over and over it in your mind. First of all, the only thing you’ll come up with is something you have thought about already. The mind acts a lot like a computer, it will only respond with what was programmed into it. If you want a fresh new thought, you have to let it go, take it off your mind and then something else has a chance of hitting you from out of the blue.

In his book, Maximum Healing: Improve Your Immune System, H. Robert Silverstein states that our behavior and how we live our life interacts with our genetics and affects our susceptibility to illness. Our behaviors can help boost or harm the body’s own healing powers—namely, the immune system.

But what precedes our behavior? It is our thoughts. Try raising your arm without the thought of “raise arm.” Try hugging someone when you’re really angry with them. Try lying in bed and falling asleep when you’re thinking how much you can’t wait to get in the car to begin your vacation. Try staying at work when three of your friends just called to say they are waiting for you at Happy Hour. ​

What we think will always translate to a behavior and an outcome. If we think we can get away with one more pieces of cake and convince ourselves that it’s just in celebration of our grandmother’s birthday, then don’t be surprised when the scale registers a weight gain in the morning. What we think is what we get. There is a one-to-one relationship. Lucky for us, we are naturally built to change our minds.

If we want a good outcome, we have the free will to change our mind or to drop unhealthy thoughts. It’s the best way to watch over our innate health: a precious jewel. We automatically boost our psychological immune system when we take care of our innate health and wisdom. Get out of its way and let it do what it does naturally—bring you fresh thoughts of health, love, and gratitude. Lori Carpenos, LMFT, is the owner of 3 Principles Therapy, in West Hartford. She, along with two colleagues, will present a seminar on Relationships in Hartford on November 4. For more information, visit Relationship-Workshop2.eventbrite.com. Connect with her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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