Life’s deepest truths often manifest in the whispers of the soul long before they find validation under the microscope. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a new branch of modern science and it stands as a testament to this, unraveling the tangible connections between our thoughts, emotions, and physical health—a connection that ancient healing traditions have known about for eons.
In the intricate tapestry of our being, PNI highlights how psychological processes can influence our immune system and overall health. Studies have shown that specific brain regions, like the amygdala, activate in response to perceived threats, initiating a cascade of physiological responses that can influence immune function.
The dialogue between our emotional world and our cells is not merely poetic—it’s scientific. Neurotransmitters and the wisdom of our immune system bridge our feelings to our physiological responses. For instance, PNI research has shown that negative emotions can lead to a suppressed immune response, making individuals more susceptible to infections.
Parallels Between PNI and Traditional Healing
The parallels between PNI and traditional healing modalities are myriad and research backs up what mind-body healers have know for years. Here are some of the ways that ancient modalities are being studied via PNI:
- Mindfulness and Meditation: Each moment we spend in stillness and introspection reverberates with healing. PNI studies indicate that regular meditation can reduce inflammatory responses in the body, affirming ancient spiritual practices.
- Stress and the Immune Response: When ancient wisdom speaks of disrupted inner harmony, PNI research echoes, demonstrating how chronic stress can elevate cytokines that promote inflammation.
- Energetic Healing: The concept of energy or life force in traditional systems might seem abstract. Yet, PNI helps ground this, revealing how our emotional “vibrations” can influence molecular pathways in our immune system.
- Balance and Harmony: PNI, in its essence, underscores balance—a balanced mind fostering a balanced immune response. It’s no surprise that heightened cortisol levels, markers of stress, have been linked to decreased immune responses.
- Emotion, Thought, and Health: As PNI research emerges, it reveals startling truths: prolonged feelings of loneliness, for instance, can alter immune function, making one more susceptible to illnesses.
How can we integrate PNI findings with ancient healing techniques? Here are a few ideas of how merging the ideas of these two worlds can bring about even greater healing.
- The Power of Belief: The placebo effect, long a subject of wonder, showcases our innate healing powers. PNI research reveals how mere belief can modulate immune responses, resonating with the spiritual premise that our internal beliefs shape our external reality.
- Personalized Healing: Marrying intuition with PNI insights allows for holistic healing—after all, research has shown that an individual’s emotional state can influence their response to treatments.
- Holistic Lifestyle Emphasis: The age old wisdom of sages, combined with modern PNI findings, like how diet can influence mood and immunity, invites us to a holistic health journey.
- Mental Well- Being and Spiritual Health: Inner tranquility has always been revered in spiritual traditions. PNI now lends scientific credence, showing how practices promoting mental well being can enhance immune function.
As we align ourselves with the universe’s rhythm, the confluence of age-old wisdom and modern PNI research guides us towards holistic well being. This dance of mind, body, and spirit, steeped in both spirituality and science, invites us to a path of genuine health and harmony.
Your brain is like the maestro of an exquisite symphony that is your body, with the limbic system holding the baton. This key player, responsible for our emotions, motivations, and memories, plays a significant role in the harmony between your brain and immune system.
Welcome to the Limbic System: The Command Center of Emotions & More
The limbic system is made up of several brain structures, including the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and cingulate cortex. Each member of the team plays its unique part:
- Amygdala: Meet the brain’s security guard. Its job is to protect you, keeping a keen eye out for danger and playing a big role in processing emotions, especially when fear is knocking at the door.
- Hippocampus: This one is your personal historian, responsible for creating new memories and linking emotions and senses to these memories. It helps you remember the good times (and the not-so-good times).
- Hypothalamus: The hypothalamus wears many hats – it keeps tabs on your hunger, sleep, body temperature, hormones, and also plays a part in emotions and memory. It’s your body’s personal assistant, always juggling multiple tasks.
- Cingulate Cortex: This cerebral team member helps in managing your emotions and pain. Consider it the sensible voice in the crowd.
The Neuro-Immune Connection: A Two-Way Street
The relationship between your brain and your immune system is indeed a complex one, and it’s more interactive than you might think. Think of it like a two-way street or an ongoing dialogue where one impacts the other and vice versa.
One fascinating aspect of this neuro-immune connection is how the immune system communicates with the brain, particularly when it’s activated. Let’s say, for instance, that you’re fighting off a particularly nasty cold. Your immune system goes into high gear, sending out an army of white blood cells to battle the invading germs.
As part of this immune response, your immune system releases cytokines. These tiny proteins act like messengers, sending out distress signals to your brain. This is your immune system’s way of saying, “Hey, we’re dealing with a situation down here. Can you help?”
Your brain, always willing to lend a hand, responds to these distress signals. It activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, leading to the release of cortisol, our primary stress hormone. Cortisol, in turn, is meant to suppress the immune response and limit inflammation.
But here’s where things can get tricky. If your immune system is consistently activated—due to chronic stress, past trauma, poor sleep, unhealthy diet, or persistent infections, for example—then those distress signals to your brain become more like a constant alarm.
This can lead to a chronic state of inflammation in your body and result in a perpetuating feedback loop of stress and inflammation. Your brain, in an effort to manage the constant “distress calls,” can end up maintaining a heightened stress response. This persistent stress state can exacerbate the immune response further, leading to even more inflammation.
This is where the concept of limbic retraining comes in handy. By working to retrain your limbic system, you’re essentially trying to teach your brain to better regulate the stress response, helping to break the cycle of chronic inflammation.
So, it’s not merely a one-way conversation from the brain to the body or the body to the brain, but an intricate dialogue between the two. The key lies in ensuring that this dialogue remains balanced and that neither the brain nor the immune system is constantly shouting over the other.
If you appear to be highly functional and have your shit together, but suffer with chronic symptoms, this post is for you. Let’s talk about the connection between your type of stress response and your illness.
In the world of chronic illness, there’s a peculiar irony that it tends to strike the ones who appear to ‘have it all together.’ If you’re that high achiever who seemingly juggles work, family, and life with remarkable grace, yet secretly battles chronic symptoms behind the scenes, then you’re not alone.
What does this curious link between chronic illness and the ‘freeze’ or ‘appease’ stress responses look like? Picture this: under the ‘freeze’ stress response, you might be grappling with decision paralysis or fatigue, all while keeping a brave face, ensuring the world sees you as the competent, composed individual you’ve always been.
Meanwhile, the ‘appease’ response has you bending over backward to maintain peace, potentially neglecting your health in the process. Perhaps you’re the CEO constantly overworking to please stakeholders or the parent forsaking personal health to cater to family needs. Sound familiar?
It’s not a coincidence that the same people often labeled as ‘overachievers,’ also wrestle with perfectionism and the ever-looming cloud of imposter syndrome. Striving for the impeccable and fearing exposure, you exist in a perpetual state of stress. This relentless cycle amplifies your vulnerability to chronic illnesses like ME/CFS, Lyme disease, mold illness, or long Covid.
Here’s the catch though: the very resilience and determination that bring you success also serve as your barriers to healing. You’re caught in the paradox of ‘functional suffering,’ always pushing through the pain, disregarding your needs, and internalizing the belief that you don’t deserve to rest.
One of the key pieces to healing chronic illness is using practices that create a baseline experience state of love and safety. Imagine feeling that the world and people in it are safe, ready to support you in whatever way you need, and are waiting to tell you how proud they are of not only your achievements, but who you are as a human being.
One of the best ways to start doing this is through mindfulness and meditation. These tools help you stay present, recognize and challenge destructive thought patterns, and soothe physical and mental stress. Together, they’re your secret weapons to foster an environment of safety, acceptance, and love, ultimately setting the stage for healing.
So, dear high achiever, if you’re open-minded and believe in the mind-body connection, give mindfulness and meditation a shot. Don’t let your chronic symptoms be the plot twist in your success story. Instead, let your healing journey be the empowering sequel where you redefine success, not just in terms of achievements, but also personal well-being and self-love.
In the past 75 years, our world has witnessed an unprecedented rise in chronic illnesses and autoimmune diseases. Visionaries like Gabor Mate and Peter Levine have proposed that these ailments may be rooted in the accumulation of trauma and stress within our bodies and minds. The question remains, though, what is the precise connection? How do stress and trauma translate into long-term diseases?
Allow me to share my insights.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with countless individuals grappling with conditions such as Chronic Fatigue (ME), food intolerances, Lyme disease, MS, and, more recently, long COVID. A recurring theme has emerged from my energy healing sessions. When I establish an intuitive connection with my clients’ body-minds and inquire where the healing should commence, I consistently receive a message to harmonize the “Nervous-immune-digestive system.” Interestingly, this intuitive wisdom suggests that these are not three separate entities, as conventional medical science often assumes.
Conventional Western medicine divides our physiological systems into distinct categories, such as the immune system, the musculoskeletal system, the digestive system, and so forth. This compartmentalization is so deeply ingrained that we consult a different specialist for each system: a neurologist for the brain, a gastroenterologist for the digestive system, and a gynecologist for the reproductive system. Yet, our bodies do not perceive these as separate systems; rather, they are human constructs intended to simplify and classify biological information.
Our bodies comprehend that we are a single, interconnected living system, with every part dependent on the whole.
Thus, when I psychically received the term “nervousimmunedigestive system” from my clients’ bodies, I understood it as a call to view these three systems as one. This realization led me to delve into the intricate connections between the brain, immune system, and digestive system.
What I discovered was truly astounding.
Our brains, immune systems, and digestive systems are in constant dialogue, exchanging information through hormones, electrical signaling, and energetic pathways (such as meridians). They continuously monitor our health and relay any changes to the rest of the body.
Chronic illness arises from a disrupted communication system that remains stuck in a state of hypervigilance (fight/flight/freeze/appease). This dysfunction generates inaccurate messages that can alter hormone levels, immune system activity, emotional states, brain processing, inflammation, and more. For instance, in clients with chronic infections like long COVID or Lyme, I observed a hypervigilant body purposely clinging to low-grade infections to maintain surveillance, like a physiological version of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Unfortunately, this vigilance comes at a cost: fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other symptoms. Only when we coaxed the “nervousimmunedigestive system” out of hypervigilance and into a state of calm safety did these symptoms subside.
The encouraging news is that by addressing the physiological changes within these three intertwined systems, we can heal the physical symptoms of chronic and autoimmune illnesses. I have discovered that once the “neuroimmunedigestive system” is healed, other symptoms dissipate naturally.
If this message resonates with you, I am developing a program in the coming months that unites energy healing, NLP principles, mental practice, somatic healing, and neuroplasticity to facilitate lasting healing for these conditions. If you are interested in joining the waitlist for this transformative program, please reach out, and I will ensure you are among the first to know.
Migraines wreak havoc in people’s lives and are much more than a headache. Migraines cause pain (headache, or stomach ache in the case of abdominal migraines) and can also include symptoms like light and temperature sensitivity, dizziness, distorted vision or “floaters”, numbness in face or extremities, nausea, vomiting, and racing thoughts. Scientists are still unclear about what causes migraines, but current research points to a connection between serotonin levels and sudden changes in blood pressure and there appears to be a genetic component, as well.
However, the real reason for migraines isn’t just biological – people who are HSPs (highly sensitive people) and who tend to internalize stress and blame themselves (rather than blame the situation or other people) are the ones who will eventually develop migraines.
First, let’s look at the HSP link. People who fit the “highly sensitive person” profile are more finely attuned to both sensory stimuli and emotions. HSPs make up about 15-20% of the population and have brains that process more information than the norm and reflect on that information more deeply than others. HSPs tend to be more sensitive to sensory stimuli in their environments like flashing or bright light and noisy environments. They will often need to recharge with some alone time, preferably in a cozy Hygge-like environment. They also tend to pick up on details that others may miss – a brain that processes more information and reflects on it more deeply is not a bad thing after all, and can be a superpower. HSPs are good at seeing both the big picture and the little details, simultaneously. HSPs also have heightened empathic abilities as they are more aware of their inner emotional environment as well as the emotions of others. HSPs have more “mirror neurons” which are a type of brain cell that allows deeper social connections and greater awareness of the emotional state of others, which allows knowing more quickly and deeply what others are feeling, often more deeply than those others may know themselves.
As you can imagine from this description, HSP brains also tend to get overloaded more easily, and that’s when migraines can occur. If HSPs are constantly trying to operate in an environment or in social situations with high levels of sensory and emotional stimuli, it will eventually be more than they can handle. This tipping point of overwhelm is what can cause the neurological and blood pressure changes that can trigger a migraine.
But the overwhelm itself is not really the issue, it’s what we do with the overwhelm that matters.
There are two basic options for a brain that feels overwhelmed or stressed – we can blame the situation and other people (“That meeting was too crazy! I feel exhausted just from being in that room.”) or we can blame ourselves (“I should have been more prepared for that meeting. Everyone got upset and that probably could have been avoided if I’d had the information they were looking for beforehand.”) For those of us that tend towards the “freeze” or “appease” type of stress response, we usually will blame ourselves or put undue pressure on ourselves at work or school to try to avoid any feelings of shame or guilt. The changes in hormones and neurotransmitters caused by this type of self-blame, self-abandonment or self-gaslighting are the real culprits when it comes to migraines. When I made an effort to stop being a perfectionist (which is really a fear of the shame from disappointing people) my migraines reduced significantly.
When we can shift from thinking that there’s something wrong with us and we’re not doing a good enough job to realizing that our HSP sensitivity is just another type of neurodiversity (that is also a superpower) and that we are most likely doing plenty at whatever job or task is at hand, then our bodies will no longer have to stop us in our tracks with a migraine.
You are a sensitive soul, with the ability to think more widely and deeply than most, and that is a superpower. You are enough, and in fact people admire you and want to have you around just because you are you.
If you can start believing these two things, your migraines will diminish and you’ll find yourself on the road to true healing.
PS: This post was by request! When I talked about digestive issues last week, someone asked if I could do one on migraines. So, if you have a medical issue that you’d like me to write about please let me know and I’ll make a future post about that topic.