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Psychoneuroimmunology: Stress Management, Self Image, Positive Attitude


Survivors of childhood cancer may be particularly interested in understanding the interplay between stress and wellness.


Within the last decade scientists have begun to explore how psychological, social and behavioral factors can alter the immune system. Scientists are increasingly aware of the mind's role in the development of such problems as headaches, ulcers, allergies, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure as well as how the mind plays a role in recovery from physical problems. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) focuses on the interactions between behavior, the nervous system, the endocrine (or hormonal) system and the immune system. Psychoneuroimmunology examines the effects of chronic stress on the human body's defense against infection and explores interventions which will allow improved immune response within the body. While all people whose immune system malfunctions will not become ill those who experience constant or prolonged stress may increase their chances of a stress-related disease. And, almost every system of the body can be damaged by stress.

Though the field of psychoneuroimmunology is in its infancy, evidence is increasing that behavioral factors, such as stress and the individual's ability to cope with it, reduce the body's ability to ward off disease. Research has demonstrated that distress and other psychological factors can depress the immune system both in terms of the number of immune system cells and the activity of antibodies in the immune system. Research has successfully linked immune system changes to changes in health status. As one example, stress, anxiety, low self-esteem and other emotional factors have been associated with skin disorders. Still, illness likely depends not only on the integrity of the immune system but also on the person's exposure to the agents that produce illness.

Current research suggests that unpredictability and lack of control of stress (e.g. when an individual feels hopeless or helpless) can lead to reduced immunity to illness. The role of PNI in prevention of and recovery from various diseases is an attractive one; psychoneuroimmunology promises to be a new frontier in understanding of prevention and recovery from disease.

There are many sources of stress but most stress is either environmental or personal. Crowding, pollution, noise, occupation, personal relationships, overwork, and sleep problems are a few examples of stress. Life events-such as the death of a spouse or loved one, divorce, marital relationship, change in health of a family member, sexual difficulties, change in responsibilities at work, trouble with in-laws or colleagues at work, change in residence, etc. -can significantly contribute to life stress. A person's perception of a situation as stressful can be a significant component of stress. Whether stress produces illness is closely tied to one's vulnerability as well as to one's perceived ability to cope with the situation. How well people cope depends on such factors as:


Volhardt, Lawrence. Psychoneuroimmunology: A Literature Review. American Orthopsychiatric Association, Inc. 61 (1) January,1991. Pp. 35-47.

Brannon L. and Feist, J. Health Psychology: An Introduction to Behavior and Health. Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Borysenko, Joan. Minding the Body, Mending the Mind. Toronto. Bantam Books, 1987.

Borysenko, Joan. Guilt is the Teacher Love is the Lesson. Warner Books. New York, 1990.

Borysenko, Joan and Borysenko, Miroslav. The Power of the Mind to Heal. Hay House Incorporated, California, 1994.

Davis, Martha, Eschelman, Elizabeth and McKay, Matthew. The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. California, 1988.

Greenberger, Dennis and Padesky, Christine. Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think. The Guilford Press, New York, 1995.

Siegel, Bernie S. Love, Medicine, and Miracles. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

Other Healing-Related Publications:
Institute of Noetic Sciences
475 Gate 5 Rd.
Sausalito, CA 94965
Quarterly journal, spontaneous remission project and other issues of body/mind Book reviews and mail-order catalog.

The Journal of Mind-Body Health
Subscription Dept AVN
P.O. Box 3000
Denville, NJ 07834
Quarterly journal with abstracts of body/mind literature and original articles.

Circle of Healing Newsletter
MindBody Health Sciences, Inc.
393 Dixon Rd.
Boulder, CO 80302

Brain Mind Bulletin
P.O. Box 42211
Los Angeles, CA 90042

Holistic Medicine
4101 Lake Boone Trail, Suite 201 Raleigh, NC 27607

Health News and Views
Center for Advancement in Cancer Education
P.O. Box 48
Wynnewood, PA 19096-1148

The Healing Healthcare Network
Kaiser and Associates
P.O. Box 339
Brighton, CO 80601
This is an association of organizations committed to developing healthcare that heals as well as cures.

Key Words
psychoneuroimmunology, stress, illness, mind/ body healing

Touchstar - mind/body approaches for wellness

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