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Doctor, author: Stress weakens people's immune systems


WILLMAR -- It turns out your grandma was right: you really can worry yourself sick.

Just ask Esther Sternberg, M.D., author of "Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being" and one of the world's leading experts on the brain. She is this year's keynote speaker at PACT 4's eighth annual Conference on the Brain on Nov. 19 at Willmar Senior High School. Registration ends Nov. 12.

"Stress turns down the immune system's ability to fight infection," Dr. Sternberg says. "If you are chronically stressed, your body won't take a flu shot as well as in people who experience little stress."

Not only will stress weaken the body's ability to fight infection, it will keep you sicker longer, Sternberg says. With the current flu pandemic, who can afford to be stressed?

The answer, and topic of her discussion at this year's conference, lies in the healing power of place and well-being, says Sternberg. Ac-cording to Sternberg, the physical space around us has the power to change our emotions and heal us more quickly. She describes these physical places as healing spaces, and she says defining a healing space is an important factor in preventing disease.

Sternberg's own healing space is her garden, though she explains healing spaces don't have to be limited to one particular place. Finding a healing space can be as simple as taking a break in the middle of a hectic workday for a few minutes of meditation.

"A beautiful view, a familiar fragrance, a favorite chair -- all turn on positive brain pathways and emotions that can help you heal," Sternberg says. Endorphins released during these times of relaxation reduce stress, improving the body's ability to fight of illness.

No time to visit a healing space each day? You may want to reconsider.

"If you don't have time to be healthy, ask yourself when you have time to be sick," Sternberg says.

Dr. Sternberg will discuss the connection between the brain and the body in more detail at this year's PACT 4 Conference on the Brain on Nov. 19.

Along with Dr. Sternberg's discussion at 7 p.m., participants in the conference have the opportunity to take part in one of eight different breakout sessions, paneled by local experts.

Ann Orren, a chemical health coordinator with PACT 4, says that the conference typically draws about 350 people per year. She adds that the conference is not too technical for people outside the field of mental health to understand.

The deadline to register for the event is Nov. 12.

Online registration forms can be found at The conference runs from 3 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Willmar Senior High School. Cost for the conference is $35 for PACT 4 partners or parents who live in Kandiyohi, Meeker, Renville and Yellow Medicine counties and $50 for non-PACT 4 partners. For high school and college students, the cost is $15.