Mental-Spiritual Health Important, Too

Distributed 06/01/01

Health is more than just the absence of illness, according to an LSU AgCenter family development authority. Mental and spiritual health account for much of our quality of life, says family development expert Raye Neely.

"Mental wellness is what we think and feel about ourselves," Neely says, noting that there's actually a scientific field that studies how expectations, emotions and thoughts affect health. This study is called psychoneuroimmunology. "PNI examines how the brain communicates with the rest of the body by sending chemical messengers into the blood," Neely explains.

Researchers have discovered that a function of the brain is to secrete substances that aid in health. For example, your brain can produce natural painkillers, fortify your immune system and combat infection, viruses and cancer. The substances that your brain produces depends, in part, on your thoughts and feelings. Neely says your immune system's ability to heal is linked to your state of mind. Your body reacts to your positive or negative outlook on life.

"People with positive attitudes generally enjoy life and are healthier than people with negative attitudes," Neely says, noting that optimism is a resource for healing. Optimists are more likely to overcome pain and adversity in their lives.

"On the other hand, pessimism appears to aggravate ill health," Neely says, citing a study in which people who were pessimistic in college had significantly higher rates of illness through age 60.

"Some people have more basic protection from disease than others," the expert says, noting these "hardy" people share three characteristics. Hardy people show a strong commitment to self, work, family and other values. Hardy people have a sense of control over their lives. Hardy people generally see change in their lives as a challenge rather than a threat.

How does one become a hardy person? In addition to staying fit, eating right and managing stress, Neely offers the following strategies to help your immune system function well.

Create positive expectations for health and healing. The effectiveness of any medical treatment depends in part on how useful you expect it to be. Stop all negative self-talk. Send yourself a steady stream of affirmations. Visualize your health and healing. Open yourself to humor, friendship and love.

Laugh. Laughter increases creativity, reduces pain and speeds healing. Seek out friends for support. Volunteer, helping others satisfies a basic need within ourselves. Plant a plant. Get a pet.

Appeal to the spirit, believe in a higher power. Faith, prayer and spiritual beliefs can play an important part in recovery form illness.

For additional information about family life, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. 


Source: Raye Neely - (225) 578-6701, or

10/4/2004 4:23:40 AM
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