Why does being sick feel so miserable?

The neuroimmune system.

Within the brain, there is a special immune network called the neuroimmune system.

The neuroimmune system seems to have a job: to activate a sickness programme.

When this program is on, it affects how we feel and how we act. We feel tired and not much in the mood for socializing. We get the strong desire to stay in bed and avoid people.

Neuroinflammation causes us to feel miserable. But there’s good news. It makes sense that our system has its own keys to turn off the sickness program and shift things in a more positive direction.

Sometimes the sickness program is not turned off when it should.

This is most likely to happen in two situations:

  1. When people push themselves too fast or hard after being ill. This is often due to external pressures, like needing to take care of kids or being pressured to get back to work. It can also be due to an internal pressure to get back to health.
  2. When people take a long time to get back to regular routines after being ill.

To help your body switch off the sickness program:

  • Find a balance between rest and getting back to your normal activities. Rest is important for healing, but your body also needs cues that the illness is gone.
  • Powerful cues illness is over include include getting back to a routine, eating regular nutritious meals, spending time outside, and hanging out with friends.
  • Physiological relaxation, and a regular sleep-wake cycle also influence our immune system, and have the potential to turn down neuroinflammation.