Internal factors such as stress have been shown to be related to a deficient immune system because of the nature of the body’s response in dealing with this problem. The capabilities of the immune system are frequently diminished after frequent activation of the autonomic nervous system in the case of chronic stresses. The immune system is downgraded to be able to continuously function.

In a study involving parents of both children with cancer and parents with children who were relatively healthy, the results showed that chronic psychological stress might reduce the immune system’s reactions to hormonal secretions that were normally used to fight the inflammatory response.

Perceived mood also seems to play a role in immune system effectiveness. Having a positive attitude appears to correlate with an increased ability of the immune system in fighting diseases.

What role does your job play in your immunity?

It is well known that stress can have a major impact on one’s immune system.  Studies have been conducted that show that stress can result in suppression in the immune system.  For example, being in a job that is stressful on a long-term, chronic basis can result in much stress, thus resulting in suppression of the immune system. The longer the person is exposed to stress, the more the immune system shifts from adaptive changes to more negative changes, first at the cellular level and later in broader immune function.   Studies have shown that the most chronic stressors resulted in the most global suppression of immunity. Almost all measures of immune system function dropped across the board.

Do people with jobs they enjoy get sick less than those who don’t like their jobs?

It results are not clear. It is well known that along with its emotional toll, prolonged job-related stress can drastically affect your physical health. Constant preoccupation with job responsibilities often leads to erratic eating habits and not enough exercise, which could result in weight problems, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and increased risk for diabetes. 

Here are cited studies:

Faragher, Cass, Cooper conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 485 studies with a combined sample size of 267 995 individuals, evaluating the research evidence linking self-report measures of job satisfaction to measures of physical and mental wellbeing. Job satisfaction was most strongly associated with mental/psychological problems; strongest relationships were found for burnout, self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. The correlation with subjective physical illness was more modest.  The authors indicated that job satisfaction level is an important factor influencing the health of workers, and that organizations should include the development of stress management policies to identify and eradicate work practices that cause most job dissatisfaction as part of any exercise aimed at improving employee health.

Justina A. V. Fischer at Stockholm School of Economics and  Alfonso Sousa-Poza at the University of Hohenheim  evaluated the relationship between job satisfaction and measures of health .  For all datasets, a positive link was found between job satisfaction and self-report health measures: employees with higher job satisfaction levels were less depressed and felt less impeded in their daily activities. However, when objective measures of physical health were used, no such positive link was observed.

What stress-reduction strategies seem to work best for boosting your immunity? How so?

Moderate, Regular Exercise.  Participation in regular, moderate intensity exercise has been shown to contribute to a lowering of the body’s vulnerability to potentially harmful bacteria and viruses. Several theories help to explain this. First, it appears that regular physical activity might contribute to ridding the lungs of the types of airborne bacteria and viruses that are linked to common upper respiratory tract infections, while also cleansing the body of certain carcinogens (cancer-causing cells) and waste products through increased output of urine and sweat.

Second, the increase in blood flow associated with moderate exercise helps to more quickly circulate antibodies and white blood cells needed to fight infection, thus providing the body with an early warning system to fight off potentially damaging germs.

In addition, the increase in body temperature that results from physical activity might aid in inhibiting the growth of bacteria, allowing the body to fight infection more effectively. Finally, moderate exercise has been shown to reduce the secretion of stress-related hormones thought to contribute to the onset of illnesses such as the flu and the common cold.

Practice Stress Management Techniques. Certain techniques, including yoga, and even laughter have all been found to increase immunity. By practicing stress-reducing activities, you can keep your body from going into chronic stress mode, maintaining increased health and wellness.

Maintaining a healthy diet, getting proper rest.  That keeps your body running smoothly. Taking better care of your body will keep it functioning properly and increase your ability to fight off the latest bug that’s being passed around. And, if you do get sick, a generally healthy body can bounce back from illness much more quickly, so you’ll be less miserable while you’re ill, and heal sooner.

Stay Organized and Maintain Balance in Your Life. Keep your home uncluttered. Become proficient at saying no to requests that aren’t in line with your priorities. Staying organized and balanced will help you keep from overtaxing yourself and can help reduce the level of stress you experience in your life, helping you stay healthier in the long run.

How would you recommend that people incorporate these practices into their lives?

Try to implement them on a daily basis.  The more you do so, the more likely they will be integrated into your daily life.  For example, exercise the first thing in the morning.  Then it becomes more routine.

What role can sex have in boosting immunity?

Studies have shown that good sexual health may mean better physical health. It has been suggested that having sex 1-2 times weekly has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections. Scientists at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., took samples of saliva, which contain IgA, from 112 college students who reported the frequency of sex they had.

Those in the “frequent” group — once or twice a week — had higher levels of IgA than those in the other three groups — who reported being abstinent, having sex less than once a week, or having it very often, three or more times weekly.

What about things like massage and other relaxation techniques? Do they have any role in boosting immunity?

These techniques are associated with a reduction in stress.  As such it can positively affect immunity.

What types of relaxation therapy would you personally recommend?

It is generally better to start with progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) if you do not have experience or training with relaxation.  In the procedure there is focus on breathing and relaxation of the major muscle groups.  The person tenses and relaxes the different muscle groups of the body.  It is known that when one tenses and relaxes the muscle, the relaxation is more profound than just relaxing without focus.  As the person gains more experience with relaxation, there can then be focus on techniques that can be done in shorter periods of time, such as autogenic relaxation and breathing exercises.  In autogenic training, the person releases muscles tension with deep breathing. The person creates a feeling of warmth and heaviness throughout the body, and thus experiences a state of physical relaxation.

Can keeping a journal play a role in boosting immunity? How so?

Journaling is the practice of keeping a diary or journal that explores thoughts and feelings surrounding the events of one’s life. To be most helpful, one must write in detail about feelings and cognitions related to stressful events, as one would discuss topics in therapy.

Journaling allows people to clarify their thoughts and feelings, thereby gaining valuable self-knowledge. It’s also a good problem-solving tool; oftentimes, one can hash out a problem and come up with solutions more easily on paper. Journaling about traumatic events helps one process them by fully exploring and releasing the emotions involved, and by engaging both hemispheres of the brain in the process, allowing the experience to become fully integrated in one’s mind. As for the health benefits of journaling, they’ve been scientifically proven. Research shows it strengthens the immune system, preventing a host of illnesses.  It also counteracts many of the negative effects of stress.

Any other stress-relieving strategies that can help?

Biofeedback Training.  Biofeedback refers to a technique where a person receives feedback about the state that their body is in. This feedback can take the form of a tone that varies in pitch, lights that turn on and off, or a line on a computer screen. A common form of biofeedback, EMG biofeedback, provides the person with feedback on how tense their muscles are. If computerized biofeedback equipment is used the user sees a line on computer screen that represents their muscle tension. Their job is to do whatever works to make the line get lower. By making the line get lower they are learning how to relax their muscles.

I’ve read that people with a generally happier disposition get sick less than sad people: Why is that?

According to research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology of the American Psychological Association’s (APA), healthy first year law students who endorsed optimistic beliefs prior to the beginning of the school year had higher levels and function of key immune cells in the middle of their first semester.

Optimistic beliefs for the law students included positive evaluations of their abilities, expectations that they would succeed, and confident emotions when thinking about law school. In contrast, apprehension and uncertainty that they would succeed in law school reflected pessimism.

While there were no immune differences between optimists and pessimists prior to beginning law school, those students who began the semester optimistic had more helper T cells and higher natural killer cell cytotoxicity mid-semester than students who had been pessimistic. Helper T cells are the “conductors” of the immune system, directing and amplifying immune responses. Natural killer cell cytotoxicity reflects the ability of these immune cells to kill cancer cells in the laboratory. Natural killer cells are thought to be important in immunity against viral infection and some types of cancers. The changes in the immune system are attributable to two psychological characteristics of optimists: they experience events as less stressful, and they show less negative mood, such as anxiety and depression.

If you’re more pessimistic than optimistic, is this something you can change? How so?

Become more aware of your negative thought processes and consciously work on changing them.


  1. Maximize your successes and minimize your failures.
  2. Look honestly at your shortcomings so you can work on them.  Focusing on your strengths can also be helpful.
  3. Keep in mind that the more you practice challenging your thought patterns, the more automatic it will become. Don’t expect major changes in thinking right away but do expect them to become ingrained over time.
  4. Always remember that virtually any failure can be a learning experience, and an important step toward your next success!
  5. Practice positive affirmations. They really work!

The person will need a willingness to examine their thoughts and a few extra minutes to consistently reexamine their thought patterns.

Can you “force” happiness on yourself by watching a comedy or doing something fun? Will this help your immunity?

Doing something fun can help deal with stress and can change thought processes.  It is not usually seen as “forcing” positive thoughts.

While there’s more to happiness than just the absence of stress, there are relationships between stress-relieving activities and happiness. Dr. Michael Frisch, a Baylor University professor and pioneer in the increasingly popular field of positive psychology, has found numerous different areas of life that contribute to a person’s happiness, and measuring satisfaction in these areas can help measure a person’s overall level of happiness and life satisfaction.

What role do your relationships with friends and family play in boosting your immunity?

Maintain a Supportive Network. It has been shown that maintaining social support boosts immunity and helps you manage stress in your life, both of which will keep you healthier. It is felt that by keeping several healthy relationships in your life, you will have friends to help you through the difficult times and increase your enjoyment of the good times, helping everyone stay healthy and enjoy life more.

Research shows that healthy and supportive relationships can reduce stress and improve your overall health and sense of well-being. However, all relationships are not equally supportive. Building a network of supportive friends, or even just one supportive relationship, can be vital to your wellbeing.

How can you make the most of these relationships to get the best benefit to your immunity?

Here are some key skills that can help you to build relationships with people that are truly supportive and sustaining.

Meeting People: The more people you have in your life, the more likely you are to have truly supportive relationships with at least one of them. It’s beneficial to be able to regularly add new people to your circle.

Time Management: It’s important to make time to nurture relationships, and to go out and have fun with friends. You may feel like you just don’t have time to spend on this, but time management and organization techniques can help you find more time in your life to spend on friendships. These techniques can also help you to show up on time, remember birthdays and other important events, help friends when they’re in need, and do other things that will strengthen friendships and make them supportive.

What about music? Can it boost your immunity?

There is considerable scientific rationale to support the use of music to enhance immunity via its powerful influence on emotions. Music’s ability to alter mood and emotional state has long been known experientially, and more recently has been scientifically documented. Likewise, it is well recognized that mental and emotional states can alter autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity and balance. The ANS, in turn, can modulate virtually every aspect of immune function, both through direct innervation of lymphoid tissues and by way of its regulatory influence on immunomodulatory hormones. The interaction between feeling states, immunity and autonomic function has been highlighted by a number of studies showing that negative emotions such as anger and hostility stimulate sympathetic activity, increase the cortisol/DHEA ratio and suppress the immune system, while positive emotional states such as appreciation enhance parasympathetic activity, increase physiological coherence, reduce the cortisol/DHEA ratio and boost immunity.

A study examined the effects of music and positive emotional states on the immune system in healthy individuals (n = 10). Autonomic activity was assessed using power spectral density analysis of heart rate variability, and secretory immunoglobulin A (S-IgA), measured from saliva samples, was used a marker of immunity. The autonomic and immune effects of rock and New Age music selections were compared to those produced by Heart Zones, music designed to facilitate stress reduction and promote emotional balance. Listening to Heart Zones for 15 minutes produced a significant increase in total autonomic activity (p < .05) and an average increase of 55% in S-IgA levels (p < .01). In contrast, neither rock, New Age music nor a control period of silence produced significant changes in total autonomic activity or in S-IgA concentrations. Rock music decreased power in the high frequency region of the heart rate variability power spectrum (p < .05), suggesting a reduction in parasympathetic activity.

A second phase of the study examined the immune and autonomic effects of music used in conjunction with an emotional self-management intervention known as the Heart Lock-In, a technique designed to improve autonomic balance, increase physiological coherence and promote the experience of sustained positive emotional states. Performing the Heart Lock-In for 15 minutes without music produced a significant average increase of 50% in S-IgA levels (p < .05). However, the combination of the Heart Lock-In facilitated by the Heart Zones music increased S-IgA levels by 141% (p < .01), a significantly greater immunoenhancement than was produced by either the music or the intervention alone. The music combined with the Heart Lock-In also produced a significant increase in total autonomic activity (p < .01) as well as in power in the low frequency region of the heart rate variability power spectrum (0.04-0.15 Hz) (p < .05). This is consistent with previous findings indicating that the use of music to facilitate heart-focused self-management interventions tends to produce a large, narrow peak in this low frequency range, which corresponds to the entrainment of respiration, blood pressure waves and brain wave patterns to the heart rhythms at a frequency of approximately 0.1 Hz. This state of increased physiological coherence is characterized by increased parasympathetic activity, increased vascular resonance, and improved sympathovagal balance, and is also generally accompanied by enhanced emotional balance and mental clarity.

In conclusion, results indicate that music can be designed to potentiate the immunoenhancing effects of positive emotional states. The data, combined with previous findings, suggest that these effects are likely to be autonomically mediated and facilitated by increased physiological coherence. This study suggests that the use of music in conjunction with effective techniques for emotional self-management can be a practical, inexpensive and non-invasive method to enhance immunity. Such interventions may yield significant health benefits both in healthy individuals and in a variety of clinical conditions in which there is immunosuppression and autonomic imbalance.


Beaton, DB. Effects of Stress and Psychological Disorders on the Immune System, Rochester Institute of Technology

Faragher, EB, Cass, and Cooper, CL.  The relationship between job satisfaction and health: a meta-analysis. BUPA Organisational Psychology and Health Research Group, Manchester School of Management, University of Manchester University of Science and Technology (UMIST), UK

Fischer, Justina A. V. and Sousa-Poza, Alfonso.  Does Job Satisfaction Improve Health? New Evidence using Panel Data and Objective Measures of Health (May 2006). University of St. Gallen FAA Discussion Paper No. DP-110. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=955734

McCraty, R.  (1999).  Music and the Immune System.  Proceedings of the Tenth International Montreux Congress on Stress, Montreux, Switzerland.