How Mental Health Affects the Immune System

Increasing evidence of the relationship between mental health and immune functioning indicates that immune system cells are actively involved in regulating brain function. One specific cell protein, cytokines, links depression with reduced immune functioning. It causes inflammation throughout the central nervous system and can cause physical symptoms commonly associated with depression.

Stress causes known physiological changes in the body. When the brain believes we are under stress, our body reacts with an elevation in heart rate and a divergence of blood flow. When the stress is lifted, the immune system begins to heal itself.

Mindfulness meditation can have benefits for health and performance, including reduced blood pressure, better pain tolerance, enhanced cognitive function, ability to cope with stress more effectively (physical, mental and emotional), better sleep and have an improved immune system.

Being aware of the connection between mental health and our immune system may be able to improve our immune functioning and thereby our overall physical health. For those who are experiencing chronic physical symptoms that have little or no explanation, they may be linked to a co-occurring mental health issue.

Joan Silver, LMFT, practices at Serenity First Counseling and specializes in relationship issues (with self and others). Connect at 520-398-7272, or

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