(Natural News) It’s normal to have a bad day (or two), but when things aren’t going your way, do you criticize yourself or do you tell yourself you can do better next time? According to a unique study, practicing self-love doesn’t just improve your psychological well-being, it also benefits your physical health.
The study, which was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, was conducted by researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Oxford.
The link between “self-compassion” and your health
The findings of the study suggest that participating in “self-compassion” exercises can help slow down the heart rate and switch off the body’s threat response. Earlier studies have shown that this threat response harms the immune system, and researchers believe that the ability to switch off this response can help lower a person’s risk of developing various diseases. (Related: Turn up your happiness dial with these simple tips: From sleeping more to eating chocolate, easy ways you can be happy NOW.)
For the study, the researchers worked with 135 healthy Exeter students. The participants were divided into five groups, and the members of each group were instructed to listen to a different set of audio instructions.
The researchers recorded the heart rate and sweat response of the volunteers, who were also asked to report how they were feeling. The participants answered questions such as:
- How safe they felt
- How likely they were to be kind to themselves
- How connected they felt to others
The two groups who listened to instructions that encouraged them to be kind to themselves reported that they felt more self-compassion and connection with others. Additionally, those in the self-compassion group showed a bodily response consistent with feelings of relaxation and safety.
The researchers reported that the heart rates of the people in the self-care groups dropped, and the variation in the length of time between heartbeats indicated that their hearts were healthy and capable of adapting to different situations. The two self-care groups also had a lower sweat response, which indicated that they were far from feeling anxiety or stress.
On the other hand, the groups that listened to instructions prompting them to have a critical inner voice showed an increased heart rate and a higher sweat response. These signs are consistent with feelings of threat and distress.
According to Dr. Hans Kirschner, the study’s first author, their results imply that being kind to yourself helps switch off the threat response. This then puts your body in a state of safety and relaxation, which is crucial for healing and regeneration.
Because of the current study, researchers are starting to understand the mechanism of how being kind to yourself when things go wrong could be used in psychological treatments.
As the body’s threat response is switched off, your immune system is strengthened and you give yourself the best chance of recovering. The researchers believe that future studies can use their method to determine the effectiveness of this kind of treatment among individuals with mental health problems.
Self-compassion may be the key to battling depression
The self-compassion recordings featured a compassionate body scan that instructed participants to pay attention to bodily sensations with an attitude of interest and calmness.
Body scan meditation focuses your attention on physical sensations in the body. This type of meditation involves scanning your awareness through the entire body on a micro level. As you pay attention, you will eventually learn how to notice what is being experienced by the different parts of your body. Body scan meditation can also teach self-awareness about how physical experience is linked to emotional experience.
Willem Kuyken, a professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford and a coauthor, said that the results of their study helped them understand some of their clinical trials where people with recurrent depression were found to benefit from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as they learned to be more self-compassionate.
Kuyken also noted that for individuals prone to depression, meeting negative thoughts and feelings with compassion is a radically different method that can help them accept the thoughts as they are and not as facts. The self-compassion method can help introduce a different way of being and knowing that may even be transformative for others.
Despite this, the researchers acknowledged that the study involved healthy participants and that their findings don’t mean that those with depression would experience the same improvements from one-off exercises. The team also didn’t look into another crucial feature of self-compassion: the ability to directly repair mood or distress. They believe that further studies can help address these points.
If you’re having a tough day, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, take a moment to give yourself some kind words to motivate yourself.