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Mental Health concept with many nowadays factors that can affect the brain triggering mental illness
Mental Health concept with many nowadays factors that can affect the brain triggering mental illness

Affects Our Immune System

How does our body respond to prolonged negative emotions?

Negative Emotions & Thoughts
Build Harmful Brain Cells

Negative thoughts build brain memory cells with shrunken spikes that looks like cactus! Whenever we recall the sad memories or emotions, either more cactus will be built, or the existing ones will be strengthened.

Cactus-like brain cells release toxic chemicals, triggering the hypothalamus to release extra adrenaline and cortisol, resulting in sickness in the long run.

Negative thoughts also slow down the processing ability of our brain and hinder cognition; reduce activity in the cerebellum - the part of brain that controls coordination, balance, relationships with others and the speed of thought.

In the long run, the volume of dendrites and gray matter in the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory in the brain, will also shrink.

The Key Is Management

Anxiety, depression, tiredness, anger, and sadness are the emotional and physical warning signs that we need to confront and deal with what has happened or is happening in our lives.

When we process negative emotions as warning signs, finding the root cause and then managing it by processing and reconceptualizing our minds can help us significantly improve our physical body condition -  inflammation, cellular health, and aging.

Negative emotions are not bad and unhealthy if we can learn how to manage our thoughts.

The key to whether negative emotions affect our health depends on whether we deal with those traumas or worries in a timely manner and manage our thinking.

If we don't deal with it and allow it to live with us for a long time, these negative emotions and thoughts can act as chronic stress and start to change how our bodies work.

Negative Thoughts
Are the Same As Stress

Negative emotions and thoughts are same as stress to the body.

Work pressure, financial difficulties, relationships and worries about national or world problems, and even adverse childhood experiences such as parental divorce, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, etc., can put the body under chronic stress.

Stress Reaction

When we face acute stress (minutes to hours), our body enters the mode of ‘fight-or-flight’ and triggers the stress reaction. Our hypothalamus is activated to release corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), which in turn signals to the anterior pituitary to release adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH). This then signals to the cortical layer of the adrenal gland to release cortisol and other glucocorticoids. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is also synthesized. These hormonal changes increase vascular tone and alertness, mobilise energy (prepare you to run) and prime the immune system (prepare you for injury).

When the threat is removed (the stress is gone), the elevated circulating glucocorticoids feed back to the hypothalamus and pituitary to block further release of CRH and ACTH respectively, which inhibits glucocorticoid release. Our body goes back to normal. 


The 3 Stages of Stress

However, the story will be different if the stress is prolonged. Many people don't realize that their negative thoughts, beliefs and feelings can also raise their stress levels. People are under chronic stress (months to years) from work, money troubles, relationship breakdowns, happenings in the country or the world. Having a healthy thought-life is very important! 

Hans Selye, a Vienna-born scientist, proposed in 1946 on “General Adaption Syndrome” to describe the three stages we face when being exposed to stress: (i) Alarm Reaction, (ii) The Resistance Stage, and (iii) The Exhaustion Stage.


The first phase is what we just discussed, the fight-or-flight stress reaction.


The second phase is where many people in modern days are at, sadly. 

When we shifted from alert to toxic emotions, or constantly thinking about negative thoughts, bad experiences, our brain build cells with dendrites that look like cactus. Whenever we recall such memory, we reinforce its strength and activates the hypothalamus to keep on releasing CRH, which in turn signals to the anterior pituitary to release more adrenocorticotrophin (ACTH). Glucocorticoid secretion is chronically elevated and epinephrine synthesis is enhanced. The negative feedback mechanism is inhibited and results in a permanent overproduction of cortisol and adrenaline.

The excess stress hormones is how fear and anxiety form from our thoughts into our physical body. 

At this stage, the body will begin to have some problems, such as persistent pain, memory loss, etc. You will also visit the doctor more frequently, no longer be able to wake up full of energy and joy every morning. In recent years, "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" has been on the rise among urban people. The symptoms of patients having this syndrome include feeling tired all the time and the fatigue will not be reduced by taking a holiday or taking enough rest - only make people losing the motivation to go out. Some even worsen into depression in serious cases. 



When we stay in phase two, the resistance stage, for long, our body will move to the third phase, the exhaustion stage. Our body organ starts to break down from fatigue. This is when stress become deadly. Chronic stress is found to increase the risk of a heart attack and stroke – the two causes that contribute to the most deaths around the world in the past 15 years (apart from COVID).

How chronic stress steal our health

Negative thoughts and emotions no longer only matter that stays in the mind. These stressors have proved to be linked to the negative influence of immune system, cellular and humoral functions. It is estimated that up to 75% of all visits to physician’s offices are stress-related. Chronic stress affects the autonomic nervous system and neuroendocrine function.
stress weaken immune more infection

Negative thoughts and emotions are associated with decreases in lymphocyte proliferation and natural killer cell activity – stress diminishes white blood cell response to viral infected cells and to cancer cells.

The higher the level of anxiety that the person is experiencing, the less antibody is produced after exposure to the potentially harmful substance. The immune system’s ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why we are more susceptible to infections under chronic stress.

Vaccination is also less effective in those who are stressed and wounds heal less readily in those who are stressed. 

chronic stress increase risk of heart attack and stroke

Although natural killer cell activity and memory cytotoxic T lymphocytes are suppressed under chronic stress, elevated levels of stress hormones change the chemical environment of the bone marrow and increase the activity of other white blood cells – neutrophils and monocytes.

Neutrophils and monocytes are to phagocytose and destroy infectious agents.
Since there is no wound to heal and no infection, when inflammatory leukocytes are overproduced, there may be an accumulation of plaque which restricts blood flow, thus resulting in decreased circulation and hypertension. The plaque that has built up travels also to other parts of the body which may block blood vessels in the brain, causing a stroke, as well as those in the heart, resulting in a heart attack. 

Stress also produces an increase in blood cholesterol levels, through the action of adrenaline and noradrenaline on the release of free fatty acids. This produces a clumping together of cholesterol particles, leading to clots in the blood and in the artery walls and occlusion of the arteries. 

Stress boosts a person’s risk for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, just to name a few.

chronic stress results in leaky gut and food sensitivites

Negative thoughts and emotions trigger our body to have overproduction of cortisol. (as explained above) Elevated cortisol can significantly reduce Secretory Immunoglobulin A (sIgA), an immune antibody found all throughout our mucosal barriers, including the eyes, mouth, sinuses, throat, GI tract, respiratory system, vaginal tract, and urogenital tract. Our body’s first line of defence, including the intestinal lining, is disrupted and the intestinal permeability increase, resulting in ‘leaky gut syndrome’.  

Stress is also a trigger for mast cells activation. Once mast cells are activated, they release mediators, called histamine, that results in inflammation – the same response that occur during an allergic reaction – and helps the body heal.

When the body is under chronic stress, mast cells might keep being activated and histamine is released. When the released histamine run all over the body, including the digestive system, it creates an inflammatory reaction and result in ‘leaky gut’ also.

A leaky gut allows larger food proteins – those that are not broken down and digested properly – to enter the bloodstream and trigger an immune reaction. The body view this food protein as ‘foreign invader’ and start attacking it. The inflammatory response can manifest as various symptoms such as joint pain, headache, eczema, brain fog, and mood disturbances such as anxiety and irritability.

When the immune reaction is triggered, a memory cell is also created. So next time when the person consumes the same food again, the body creates an Immunoglobulin G (IgG) immune reaction calling white blood cells to the ‘rescue’, resulting in having ‘food sensitivity’. 

chronic stress results in bad habits

People having negative emotions and thoughts also tend to have other bad life habits to look for a ‘happy boost’, such as sleep less, exercise less, have poorer diets, smoke more, and use alcohol and other drugs more often than non-stressed people. These behaviours also affect the immune system.

Healthy diet is nothing compared to healthy mind

As we learn in this section, chronic stress has long-term serious impact to our body.

Every thought and emotion that come into our mind daily is a matter of choice of life and death. We are the one that decide the structure of our brain – our memory cells – by taking charge of our thought-life.

Having a healthy diet is nothing compared to a healthy mind. Even if we adjusted our diet but not dealt with our mind, the physical problems are going to come back. 

Let’s begin today by pondering on things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse!