Your Mood and the Common Cold: Blurred Boundaries Between Mind and Body
September 18, 2017 - With the crisp fall air, comes increased likelihood of illness such as colds and the flu. The common cold can be a drain on our happiness, productivity at work, and general well-being. We have always been taught to wash our hands, cover our mouths, and get plenty of Vitamin C. Maybe there is a critical piece of this cold prevention that we are missing - emotional well-being.
The idea that science and medicine must be measurable and observable was solidified in the 17th century with scientist and philosophers like Rene Descarte, “illness could spring only from concrete and visible distortions of anatomy, not ephemeral and invisible distortions of the mind” (Sternberg, 2001). This concept seems to have been an unspoken rule in medicine for the past 400 years. Though recently, the tides have begun to change with research breaking down such assumptions. While the field of psychoneuroimmunology is still in its early stages, studies are repeatedly finding that emotions have a direct impact on one’s health (Collingwood, 2015). Yes, colds are most frequently caused by the transmission of germs between people; however, one’s emotions and mental health seem to have an impact on the immune system and one’s vulnerability to these germs.
In a study of 300 healthy volunteers, it was determined that those with a primarily negative emotional style over a two week period were three times more likely to contract a cold virus than those with a more positive emotional style (Cohen, 2003). Similarly, Marchant (2013) found that “during a stressful exam period, students had lower activity from virus-fighting immune cells, and higher levels of antibodies for the common virus Epstein–Barr” (p. 458).
So what does this information mean for you?
We all get stressed, experience negative events in our lives, and have periods of feeling down. It cannot be expected that you are happy and care-free all of the time. The difference between a winter scattered with colds and a healthy season, may lie in our ability to manage negative situations. Regular exercise, eating healthy, social support, and sufficient sleep are great starting points to help manage difficult times. That being said, these simple self-care habits may not be cutting it. Sometimes speaking with a professional can help to boost one’s ability to manage adversity.
If you find yourself getting sick often or simply feeling down, stressed, or overwhelmed, make sure you're in touch with your doctor and also give C-SEAP a call for no-cost counseling. We are available to schedule an intake appointment for you Monday-Friday 8:00-5:00 at 303-866-4314.
Maggie Reynolds, LPC, LAC, CEAP
Cohen, S. et al. (2003). Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65, pp. 652-7.
Collingwood, J. (2015). Study Probes How Emotions Affect Immune System. Psych Central. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/05/22/study-probes-how-emotions-affect-immune-system/70192.html
Marchant, J. (2013). Immunology: The pursuit of happiness. Nature, 503. pp. 458-60, doi: 10.1038/503458a. Retrieved from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/sites/all/files/users/user-107/Marchant%20-%2...
Popova, M. (2015) The Science of Stress and How Our Emotions Affect Our Susceptibility to Burnout and Disease. Brain Pickings. Retrieved from https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/20/esther-sternberg-balance-within...
Sternberg, E. M. (2001). The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.