It’s that time of year in the northern hemisphere: the beginning of flu season. It had been my intention to share nutritional ways to support your organism from whichever viruses are floating around this year.
Instead, I wonder, have you ever taken the time to consider the holistic significance of your immune system and how it works to keep you healthy?
The Immune System (Re)-Defined
The immune system (IS) is your body’s defense against disease; no news here. But did you know it’s in fact one part of the complex messaging system in your body that includes your mind and emotions? The field of psychoneuroimmunology has broken open the mysteries of how hormones, neurotransmitters and the various immune responses work constantly to keep you healthy on a minute-to-minute basis.
On its own, the basic function of the IS is to differentiate between self & non-self.
Let’s take a step back and look at that role metaphorically.
Differentiating self from non-self: what’s yours and what’s not. From a psychological viewpoint, that’s called boundaries.
A healthy immune system is all about having healthy boundaries. Immunity is about not letting something in, or not letting it affect you. Like that saying, “I am immune to his charms,” meaning the guy has no sway with you.
Again, from a physiological POV, the 1st line of defense is the skin and mucous membranes: the actual physical barrier that protects you from your environment. The skin also delineates the human form, it literally defines your (physical) edges.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m out of sorts emotionally, I feel as if “I don’t know where my edges are”. I trip or bump into things, and I have a hard time making decisions that are right for me. At times like this, I’ve been taken advantage of, or I let someone else’s priorities rule my mind.
Let me draw you a picture:
You work long hours and barely have time for your family, let alone yourself, because you’re afraid there won’t be enough money to pay the bills. You say yes when the boss asks you to work over the weekend because it’s nearly salary review time; you have to say no to your daughter’s big soccer game.
Or, how about this one:
Your pre-teen really wants to go to a party weekend that you feel is wrong for his age. You tell him no, out of a desire to maintain his best interests and your values. He rants & screams all sorts of threats and insults, bangs his door. Do you maintain your decision. Or, do you worry that his frantic behaviour is an indication that he’ll act in some rash way, so you give in.
You need time to yourself this weekend, to recharge your personal batteries. You look forward to puttering in the garden and curling up with a good bodice-ripper. But your sweetie is counting on you to go to the family gathering at his mother’s cottage. You go out of obligation, or stand your ground and feel guilty all weekend.
These types of scenarios send messages to your mind & body that your values, needs and priorities are secondary to everyone else around you. Keep this up, and eventually lose sight of what’s yours and what’s not.
Physically, that’s what your IS does. It lets in and/or defends against organisms seeking access to, and energy from, your body. Because of its strong ties to your thoughts and emotions, its actions can happen as a response to love or of fear.
Now, let’s go a bit deeper. OK, a lot deeper.
When I talk about the (capital S) Self, I’m referring to your Higher Self, your Spirit. The part that connects you to the Cosmic Whole, that carries the blueprint for who You are.
As a messenger within your organism, the IS is a part of the Soul’s guidance system. Your soul is kind of like the GPS that helps you navigate your Spirit’s map. The Soul leads your body, heart and mind towards the greatest expression of your Self.
On an energetic level, the IS helps you grow into that full expression, by acting as a messenger that determines what is true to You and what isn’t.
When you prevent that growth, by suppressing immune responses (such as acute fever & inflammation), the IS cannot convey its messages effectively. The message needs to get louder to be heard.
The results of a faulty immune system manifest as susceptibility to infections (viral, bacterial or fungal) on the one hand, and allergies on the other. (The extremes of those opposites play out as cancer and auto-immune disorders.)
The diminished IS comes from a lack of self-care (read: Self-Love). The hypersensitive responses are an over-reaction born from Fear.
To break boundaries into their simplest form, it’s all about saying Yes or No. Looked at another way, boundaries are formed/maintained/breached depending on whether we act out of Love or out of Fear. (As with the examples above.)
When we eat chicken soup for our illnesses, how much of the immune-boosting of the soup comes from the Love of the mother or grandmother who made it?
Several studies at Linda Loma University in California document the direct impact of sugar on the IS. (Google it for details.) Large amounts of sugar – an addiction used to replace any lack of sweetness or love in our lives – brings with it a false sense of well-being that simply over-excites you, then leaves you drained and wanting more.
Kind of like a bad boyfriend.
Physiologically, the adrenals feel the brunt of that impact.
The adrenals play a key role in our response to stress (they’re the source of adrenaline & cortisol). Did you know they’re also responsible for modulating inflammation – one of the non-specific immune responses? If they’re not happy, then neither is your ability to respond to invaders.
The adrenals are a part of the 3rd Chakra, the Will. This emotional energy centre oversees your ability to take your place, to stand your ground. It’s the home of your sense of Self. It’s depleted by fear and enhanced by self-love.
Poor adrenal health is something I deal with almost constantly in my practice. As women we live our lives from our should’s, from the needs of others and out of fear of losing them. No matter what type of issue she comes to me with, there’s often a piece that leads right back to a woman’s 3rd chakra and her adrenals.
As you prepare for the winter, check in on how solid you’re feeling on a mental-emotional level.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I live my life according to what’s true for me?
- Do I honour my own values?
- Am I able to say No when something’s not right for me? Do I say Yes when something is?
- Do I have a good support system? In 2 of her books, Dr. Christiane Northrup points out that simply having the perception of strong emotional support enhances a woman’s immune response.
One last reminder: A healthy body and immune system does not necessarily mean that you’ll never get sick – it means that if you do, you’re equipped to deal with it.
What will you do to improve your sense of Self before hunkering down for the winter? Share your thoughts with the rest of us in the comments below – you might provide inspiration and support to someone else!
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I wish you a winter filled with rosy cheeks and laughter!