Mind over Matter – How our mood influences our immune system

Over the Christmas holidays I’ve  been doing a fair amount of training in preparation for the race I’ve entered. Despite getting up before dawn during my holidays, I found I was highly motivated, full of energy and putting in some personal bests on various rides and runs. That stopped on Monday, my first day back in the office.I woke up feeling somewhat blue with the idea that the holiday had ended. I would much rather be out training than sitting in an office all day. What struck me though, was how my mood impacted on my training. The climb up the mountain was terrible. I lacked the energy I had the previous week. Perhaps there was a physical element, but I couldn’t discount that if must also be psychological.

This got me thinking about the relationship between depression and physical illness. It is well established that depression has a physiological impact,It has been shown that depression can hasten the progression of cancer, AIDS and cardiovascular disease. What I found more interesting was that depression can be a symptom of a compromised immune system. It begs the question; which came first? The depression or the illness?

The relationship between mood, the immune system and immune system regulation is evolutionary old and adaptive for survival. Think of it this way, when you’re feeling ill a good survival strategy would be to rest and recover, so you retreat into your cave and sleep until you feel better. Now, this isn’t too different to the behaviour of someone who is depressed. Moreover, depression is characterised, by the same physiological, immune system responses one would see when the body responds to an infection.

The implications for both physicians and psychologists is significant. but for the sake In treating apparent physical illness one should also consider a psychological influence, and in treating mental illness one should also consider physical illness. Taking it one step further, from diagnosis to intervention… in treating depression, getting patients out of bed and moving is a well known strategy for breaking the depression (that is not to say that people can just snap out of depression by going jogging). It is also well known, but often not seen as hard science, that having a “positive attitude” improves the recovery from physical illness.

Now I would be interested very to hear about any articles, or personal experience,  related to mood and athletic performance.

And if you’re interested in learning more then I would recommend “Mind, Immunity and Health: The Science of Psychoneuroimmunology” (Evans, Hucklebridge and Clow, 2000)