You’ve been working hard for months.
Once this project is done, you’ll get your weekends back. But for now you just have to put up with the disaster your house has become and the friends who’ve stopped calling because you haven’t had time for them.
You’re so tired you can’t even enjoy a celebratory glass of wine with your co-workers when the project is finally over. So you go home and fall into bed.
The next morning you wake up…
With a raging cold.
Has that ever happened to you?
I have a friend who swears she’ll never take time off, because the first thing she does when she goes on vacation is get sick.
WHY does that happen?
Well, it doesn’t happen because you’ve finally taken a moment to relax.
It happens because you’ve been running on empty for far too long.
When you work too hard, overdose on stress, and fuel yourself with energy bars and caffeine, your body is going to try to keep up with you. But you’re not making life easy for it.
So what’s the answer?
You can’t quit your job. You can’t say no to the 1001 things you have to do. (Though you could certainly try.)
And stress management sounds way too much like another task to add to your already-full plate.
Carl Charnetski and Francis Brennan have a different tactic they want you to try.
They want you to make time for pleasure.
What kind of pleasure?
Oh, anything that toots your horn.
But if you need some suggestions, they recommend chocolate (in moderation), chilling with a pet, listening to your favorite music, watching a comedy, hanging out with friends, planning your next vacation, getting a massage, or getting it on with your guy.
Find something that makes you feel good—as long as it doesn’t come with a nasty backlash of guilt—and savor it.
Doing so will help you live longer and stay healthier.
That’s the conclusion of their book Feeling Good is Good for You: How Pleasure Can Boost Your Immune System and Lengthen Your Life.
Yep, the title says it all.
Their findings come from the new field of psychoneuroimmunology, the study of how the mind interacts with the immune system. One well-known example is the placebo effect, or the way harmless sugar pills are often just as effective as the real thing.
When it comes to immune function, it really IS mind over matter.
Depression, hopelessness, and pessimism can all result in more sick days. Chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, heart disease, atheroscerlosis, diabetes, even memory loss and stroke. Losing a spouse within the last year increases your own risk of death ninefold.
How you feel inside impacts your health.
Even if you eat right, exercise, and get a good night’s sleep, you may not be doing enough. The final piece to the health care puzzle is feeling good.
Being a bad mood can actually compromise your immune system. (Don’t bottle up those feelings, though. You’ll get over a bad mood faster if you allow yourself to vent to someone you trust.)
That doesn’t mean you should get down on yourself for feeling down…
Or punish yourself for being under stress.
It simply means you need to take more time to do things you enjoy.
Pleasure and stress cannot co-exist. When you’re enjoying yourself in the moment, your body is relaxing. That’s the opposite of what stress does. Stress tenses you up and readies you for action.
So take time every day to do nice things for yourself, think positive thoughts, and connect with friends and loved ones. Fun, love, and joy keep your immune system strong.
Charnetski and Brennan explain the science behind it:
Pleasure chemicals … actually improve immune function by producing an antibacterial peptide. They enhance the killer instincts and abilities of various immune components…. In general, when your body releases [pleasure chemicals], your immune system is more active, more productive, more lethal, and more protective.”
Although it may be a stretch to claim you can “fight off infection with a smile,” you might want to give the Immunity-Pleasure Connection a try the next time you get sick.
Snuggle up in bed with a pet curled at your side. Watch funny sitcoms, or close your eyes and dream about all the wonderful things you’d like to have happen this year.
Don’t spend that time worrying or feeling annoyed about getting sick. Enjoy the opportunity to support your body—just as your body has been supporting you for so long.
 Feeling Good is Good for You (Rodale, 2001) 8.