In our account of the workings of the body, we have not yet taken psychological factors into consideration.
From time immemorial, the interrelationship and interdependency of mind/soul and body–the holistic nature of the human condition–was known intuitively and taken for granted. Today, science fully recognizes and has well established, by experiment, this fundamental truth. In the medical world, the interest in psychoneuroimmunology (which we will presently define and discuss), fueled by the widespread perception that the way one thinks has significant effects on the health of the individual, is continuously rising.
The Chassidic dictum states: "Think good and it will be good!"
With regard to sorrow, it is known that bereavement significantly influences one’s state of health, but that in general its negative effects disappear over a period of one year (the complete period of mourning in the Torah!).
It has also been shown that guided imagery, such as willfully picturing oneself destroying a foreign invader into one’s body, has detectable influence in overcoming disease.
Three physiological systems are involved in particular in the interplay between body and soul, maintaining the overall well-being of the individual. These are: the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system. One speaks today of neuroendocrine-immune mechanisms. This physiological team helps the body adapt in the face of potentially stressful challenges, a process referred to as allostasis.
Allostasis achieves psychological and physiological stability through change–adaptation. This process of change for the sake of establishing stability faces three dangers: the response mechanism may become too frequent, it may fail to shut off (with the cessation of the need to change), or it may initially be inadequate. A common phenomenon is that under acute stress, impending infections may be held at bay, but resistance may collapse when the pressure is relieved. Thus we see that the whole process of allostasis demands the highest degree of equilibrium and sensitivity to the present state of mind-body.
Stress, a major cause of disease, is yet enigmatic and scientifically indefinable. What is known is that the psychological effects of the mind on health are exerted via influences on the immune system. Of all the physiological systems, clearly it is the nervous system which is most directly associated with the psyche itself. Thus, when we say that the mind exerts influence on the immune system we mean that the nervous system communicates in some way to the immune system. It is now known that this communication is bi-directional.
Stress affects the immune system (in extreme cases, psychiatric disorder is liable to create abnormalities in the immune system), which then communicates back to the nervous system. According to the results of much modern research, the nervous system communicates with the immune system via the endocrine system. A full cycle of communication is thus achieved, from the nervous system to the endocrine system to the immune system and back to the nervous system.
In summary, sound health depends upon positive thinking, especially in times of stress, and upon the combined effort of these three physiological systems.
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