Joy is a pillar for good health. Do you allow yourself to experience joy every day? Does joy truly help us to stay healthy? Do you even know what brings you joy or happiness? I hope your answer to each of those questions was yes.
We may now have to opportunity of time to explore these questions in a new way. We may learn joyous opportunities we took for granted in the past. These might be as simple as sitting in a café and enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. We may miss hanging out with friends in our favorite restaurant. We may be missing attending lectures, going to the library. The list can truly to on and on as we are given the chance of a lifetime to experience the joy of life in an entirely new way due to our mandatory stay at home and social distancing orders. Now just a simple free walk outside and seeing other people at a distance can be comforting. Being outside with the sun and blue sky is rejuvenating and brings joy.
Our immune system is the front line for fighting any infection, viral or bacterial. Of course, we know COVID-19 is a virus which we want to fight. So how does joy help us to keep our immune system optimal?
Our nervous system has two pathways. One is the sympathetic pathway, which is our fight or flight system. It is important when we are under stress or danger. This fight or flight system helps us to stay alive from injury. It helps our blood to clot more quickly and constricts our blood vessels, so we don’t bleed to death. Longterm, one may see how this may raise blood pressure.
More importantly for dealing with COVID-19, stress decreases the optimal functional of our immune system, which requires a lot of energy for the body to maintain. If our bodies sense danger, they prioritize energy use on processes that enhance short term survival. Stress, whatever the form, activates our body’s fight or flight system, which does not know the difference between the proverbial tiger bite, the common cold, or COVID-19.
The balance of our fight or flight system is our parasympathetic system. It is our rest, digest and repair system. We would be well served if we lived most of our day in this state. Here our body may more easily digest our food to absorb the life-supporting nutrients of our food. Our heart is at rest and pumping more slowly. Our blood vessels are not constricted. Experiencing joy during the day may allow us to more easily drop to sleep at night, which is also critical for our health.
Both paths of our autonomic nervous system are important for health. We would like to easily shift from one system into the other. In our hectic world, we rarely allow ourselves to be at rest. People may experience mental and emotional stressors. But we also face environmental stressors, like water and air pollution, nutrient deficiencies, injuries and of course infection from virus and bacteria.
Joy may be a path to allow us to tip our body back toward the rest, digest and repair mode. Repair helps us to overcome sickness and injuries. As a bonus, it may help us to age more successfully.
Joy and happiness help us to be more optimistic. There are measurable changes in the body when we allow ourselves to experience joy. We have a decrease in cortisol (our stress hormone) and increases in endorphins, which help us to feel less pain. With less stress, our body feels safe and more easily shifts functions to long term survival; therefore, our immune system is given the energy it needs to functional optimally. Think, fighting infection. Our mood may be lighter because there are increases in serotonin (the happiness neurotransmitter) and oxytocin (the connection hormone). There is an increase in Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), which helps us to grow new neurons in our brain to protect our memory. We dilate our blood vessels and increase our lung capacity which helps to send more oxygen throughout our body. Laughter may force us to breathe more deeply. Just breathing deeper stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs through the entire body to let all the body’s systems know to rest, digest, and repair.
How can we bring more joy into our lives? There are comedy clubs, funny movies and books, and even laughter yoga. I am finding many humorous websites for jokes helpful. We would like gentle humor, not humor at the expense of another. You may want to google Christian jokes, Reader's Digest jokes, jokes for children, coffee, cats, dogs, computers, diets, daily life, dads, and moms. The laughs can go on and on. I am experiencing the joy of learning how to find humor to share.
Our bodies will react the same even if we are faking the laughter or smile. When was the last time you experienced a good belly laugh? It might be helpful to have a good laugh every day.
In closing, I offer you this.
Day 4 of our new 6 social distancing: I struck up a conversation with a spider today. Seems nice. He’s a web designer.
Disclaimer: This information is being provided to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is being provided to you to educate you about healthy eating and lifestyles and as a self-help tool for your own use. It is not medical or psychological advice. This information is to be used at your own risk, based on your own judgment. For my full disclaimer, please go to www.donnakkelly.com.