Here is a good Scrabble word for etymologists: psychoneuroimmunology. It might sound like the sort of word only scholars would know, but take it apart and it is actually not all that hard to recognize the meaning of this esoteric topic.
“Psych” prefixes many labels which refer to emotional disturbance or its study: psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, psychopath, and psychosomatic, for example. “Neuro” is a root referring to the brain, seen in words like neurologist, neurosurgeon, neuronopathic and non-neuronopathic plus others.
Immunology refers to the study of immunity; how the body defends itself against bacteria and germs, pathogens, chemicals, and free radicals which lead to cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Immunology is a study of the body’s natural response to disease, poisoning, and contagious infection.
Put them all together and you are talking about a study featuring overlapping medical, emotional, and mind pathways.
What Is Psychoneuroimmunology?
While the definition of this highly specialized discipline is laid out above in a nutshell, it tells you almost nothing about the work researchers are doing in this field or why they do it. For decades, scientists were reluctant to make any connections of the sort as though to do so would be to sully the reasoning of science and insult real scientists investigating tangibles.
More recent years have seen a shift in thinking because anecdotal and scientifically recorded evidence proves there is a deep connection between how we feel mentally and how our bodies behave.
Responses to Illness
A physiological response to sickness starts with a vague feeling that all is not well, even before symptoms emerge. The affected person is tired, a little distressed, more so perhaps because of how vague these feelings are.
Others will say this individual is faking it; that he is a hypochondriac seeking attention. Next day, when he arrives at work with a streaming nose and a pounding headache, the same individuals proclaim they knew their colleague was spoiling for something big; that’s always how it starts.
Talking Yourself into Sickness
There is a line of reasoning that, with a positive attitude, you can talk yourself out of feeling unwell. With a sunny outlook, all can be right with the world, even if the symptoms of an illness are already emerging; just pretend you are not sick.
On the other hand, act like you are sick, convince yourself this is true, and you wind up with a cold or flu eventually. Why do people want to talk themselves into feeling poorly? That is a question explored by counselors, but psychoneuroimmunology explores the result of that positive or negative self-talk and how real it can be.
Depression, Stress, and a Doctor’s Note
Why would someone wish to be ill?
Really, this person does not want to be sick but is looking for a response from other people, one of sympathy and kindness. He feels this way because of depression or stress.
Maybe he does not receive the encouragement and sympathy he needs for self-confidence so he creates a small drama in order to procure the desired response. The funny thing is, even if this person is merely depressed or under too much stress at work or home, his made-up illness can become the real thing.
He will certainly behave as though he is ill, eating differently, taking medicine, sleeping more, and avoiding people as depressed or anxious people do. Lights will be too bright and noises too loud. After a few days of nurturing the need for self-pity, perhaps weeks if one counts all the times he thought about it, real sickness can emerge.
Somehow the brain gets a message from mood centers before informing the immune system to mount an attack. This attack causes a fever, light-headedness, fatigue, and a poor appetite. In other words, a person can talk himself right into the sick bed.
While the correspondence between mind, mood, and body is fascinating simply to define and explore, it can also give medical practitioners in both physiological and psychological disciplines information that will help them reduce instances of certain illnesses, prescribe more effectively to treat them, and also teach their patients how to avoid sickness.
They will find ways to identify cases of mental illness which are at the root of ongoing illness that comes out of nowhere and cannot be treated. This is an exciting field involving the expertise and curiosity of many professionals.