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Woman practices self-compassion at the office to lower stress.

The Mental and Physical Benefits of Self-Kindness

Dec 15, 2020

Many people are able to show compassion or kindness to others, but to treat oneself with goodwill is an undervalued skill with important benefits. Self-compassion is the ability to turn understanding and acceptance inward, and recent studies have found that it has both physical and psychological benefits.

Researching Self-Compassion and Self-Criticism

In one study, 135 students were separated into five groups, after which each group heard a unique set of instructions that induced thoughts of either self-kindness or self-criticism. Throughout the study, researchers monitored each participant’s heart rate and sweat response. They also asked the students questions about how safe they felt, how likely they were to be kind to themselves, and how connected they felt to others.

In two of the five groups, their instructions encouraged self-compassion. These groups answered questions more positively and had lower heart rates and sweat responses. On the other hand, the three groups that were instructed to be more self-critical demonstrated physical signs of stress, including higher heart rates and sweat responses.

These findings suggest that treating yourself with kindness switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that’s important for regeneration and healing.

The Science of Self-Kindness

Experts have found that self-compassion exercises reduce feelings of threat and distress, bringing the body into a parasympathetic state in which the heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, and stress hormones decrease.

Because stress hormones like cortisol decrease in this state, parasympathetic activity has been linked to improved immune system functioning, effective emotion regulation, and cardiovascular health. By practicing self-compassion, you can help your body avoid several repercussions of stress such as anxiety, depression, weight gain, digestive problems, sleep problems, and memory and concentration impairment.

People who treat themselves with kindness are also more likely to succeed and overcome challenges. The parasympathetic response that self-compassion causes takes us out of fight-or-flight mode, enabling us to face normally stressful situations with a calm and collected mindset.

Self-criticism makes it difficult not to feel defeated after failing at something, and that defeat is a feeling many people avoid at all costs. But when we are kinder to ourselves and limit self-criticism, we fear failure less and are more likely to learn from it and improve.

How You Can Practice Self-Compassion

Self-compassion and self-criticism are both a part of our internal dialogue. It’s up to each of us to promote positive self-talk and limit critical thoughts. Here’s how you can do just that.

1. Write It Down

A good first step is to identify both your positive and negative self-talk by writing it down. Then, learn to change each negative statement that comes up into a positive one. For example: change “I failed and embarrassed myself” to “I’m proud that I tried. That took courage.” It may help to imagine what a friend or loved one would tell you.

Do this as frequently as you need to, especially if you’re having a bad day. As you improve at this, you will give yourself more positive affirmations and know how to prepare yourself for any challenges or negative experiences that might cause self-criticism.

2. Memorize a Mantra

It will also help to develop a self-compassion mantra. Put together and memorize a positive reminder that you can fall back on and recite to yourself in difficult situations. This will go a long way in helping you overcome negative experiences while maintaining positive thoughts.

3. Make Time To Meditate

Meditation has also been known to help people let go of negative thoughts. There are several ways to meditate, including mantra meditations, breathing practices, and nature walks. Find a way that suits you and set aside some time each day to do it.

Being kind to yourself is among the healthiest decisions you can make, especially during times like these. By practicing self-care and limiting negative thoughts, we unlock countless benefits to our psychological and physical wellness.

Visit our Resolution Resources to find out how you can take steps toward wellness while taking it easy on yourself.

If you struggle with anxiety or stress, prioritize your mental health and schedule a televisit with your St. Joseph and Texas A&M Health Network primary care physician.

Sources:
Healthline | Positive Self-Talk: How Talking to Yourself Is a Good Thing Psychology Today | 3 Powerful Science-Based Benefits of a Little Self-Love Science Daily | Being kind to yourself has mental and physical benefits Clinical Psychological Science | Soothing Your Heart and Feeling Connected: A New Experimental Paradigm to Study the Benefits of Self-Compassion Discovery | Being Kind to Yourself Has Real Health Benefits