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Nicole Abendroth

Boost Your Psychological Immune System

Keep your brain in shape to optimize your mental and emotional health.

Wash your hands. Eat right. Get a good night's sleep.

You're probably familiar with these tips to strengthen your body's immune system. But your brain and has an immune system — one that keeps your mind healthy by warding off stress and anxiety. And should a mental pathogen slip through, researchers say it's the psychological immune system that helps you bounce back. The system also can help you:

  • Control irritability
  • Maintain a positive mindset
  • Solve problems
  • Boost feelings of self-worth
  • Keep emotions and behaviors in check

How your psychological immune system works

When things don't go our way, it's normal to feel upset and disappointed. Think about a job loss, a fender-bender, or an argument with a loved one. How you choose to process those incidents is all in your head — literally. The decision-making part of your brain reacts by letting in feelings of anguish and self-doubt, which can put you in a slump for weeks. But a healthy psychological immune system can override that negative response.

The result: You regain your optimism, comfort, and confidence faster.

Five ways to boost your psychological immune system

Supporting your psychological immunity is easier than you might think. Here's how to take care of it, so it can take care of you:

  1. Talk yourself up
    We can be our own worst critics. But we also can be our best supporters. Speaking positively about yourself and to yourself — can make a major difference in how you process negative emotions. It takes practice, but when things go wrong, your words and beliefs can help deflate negative feelings before they overwhelm you.
  2. Take a walk
    Regular exercise is key to a healthy physiological and psychological immune system. When you move, your body releases endorphins that boost your mood and lower stress. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of physical activity per week. That's the ideal, but the American Psychological Association found that 75 minutes of brisk walking per week (a little more than 10 minutes a day) can cut depression risk by 18%.
  3. Make time to meditate
    Feeling like you're too busy can cause stress, which is one clear way to weaken your psychological immune system. That's why it pays to create space when you need it. As little as 5 to 10 minutes of daily meditation can help restore a sense of calm and help you cope with whatever life brings you.
  4. Stay connected
    We've all experienced the power of a friend who reaches out in a tough time. That's why it's important to surround yourself with friends, family, and mentors, particularly in times of crisis or heavy stress. Having someone by your side can make it easier to get through hard times.
  5. Set meaningful goals
    Goal-setting creates a mental roadmap of where you want to go and the steps to get there. When the road to your goals gets bumpy, your psychological immune system kicks in, boosting your motivation, self-esteem, and confidence. These positive feelings can help you realign with your objectives. And with a bigger picture in mind of what success looks like, you're more likely to overcome setbacks.

Nicole Abendroth is a De Pere, Wisconsin-based freelance writer