Brain Function

Why Self-Compassion is Critical to a Healthy Heart

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Brain Vitality Plus

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Why Self-Compassion is Critical to a Healthy Heart about Brain Vitality Plus
Are you someone who always puts the needs of others first? It may not be doing your health any favors, say researchers from the University of Pittsburgh.

A new study, published in the journal Health Psychology, suggests that being kind to yourself isn’t just good for mental health – it may also reduce your risk of heart disease.1 Let’s take a look at these new findings on self-compassion and see what they mean for your health.

Let’s start with getting a better understanding of the concept of self-compassion. What is it, really?

According to the mental health website, Good Therapy, self-compassion is the ability to turn understanding, acceptance, and love inward. Sure, it might be second nature to feel compassion for others, but it’s often harder to feel that same empathy for yourself, especially when you make a mistake.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Illinois knew that self-compassion is linked to positive mental health. Still, they wondered if it also translated into cardiovascular health benefits.

“A lot of research has been focused on studying how stress and other negative factors may impact cardiovascular health, but the impact of positive psychological factors, such as self-compassion, is far less known," says Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., lead author of the study.

Examining Self-Compassion in Women

The team assembled a group of 195 women between the ages of 45 and 67 to test their theory. None of the women had cardiovascular disease at the beginning of the study.

Researchers provided a survey, and women shared how often they felt like they were lacking or felt discouraged because of perceived personal flaws.

Next, they shared how often they permitted themselves to practice self-care, especially during stressful times.

The researchers measured each participant’s BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. The women also received a standard diagnostic ultrasound of their carotid arteries – these are the major vessels in the neck that carry the blood from the heart to the brain.

Armed with these baseline numbers and measurements, researchers analyzed each woman’s cardiovascular health. The results were interesting, to say the least.

Greater Self-Compassion Equals Better Artery Health

The scientists found that the women who scored higher on the self-compassion scale had thinner carotid artery walls and less plaque buildup in those walls as compared to women who scored lower.

Simply put, women who practiced more self-compassion had a lower risk of cardiovascular issues, such as heart attacks and strokes, years after the initial testing.

And it gets better…

The positive results persisted even when scientists considered any behaviors or other psychological factors that might influence cardiovascular health, such as physical activity, smoking, and depressive symptoms.

“These findings underscore the importance of practicing kindness and compassion, particularly towards yourself,” Professor Thurston notes. “We are all living through extraordinarily stressful times, and our research suggests that self-compassion is essential for both our mental and physical health.”

Practicing Self-Compassion

But, you may be wondering, "How the heck do I practice self-compassion?" The publication and website Psychology Today offers three ways to cultivate self-love:
  1. Practice Mindfulness: Are you constantly berating yourself with negative self-talk? Simply being aware of the critical inner voice is a great first step to self-compassion. There are plenty of online meditation programs that can help with this, too.
  2. Know You’re Not Alone: “Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves and realizing that the human condition is imperfect and that our flaws and setbacks should connect us and not divide us," explains Daniel Bober, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, in the book How to Cultivate More Self-Compassion.
  3. Be Okay with Imperfect: In the Psychology Today article, Dr. Kristen Martinez said she uses the “permission slip” metaphor. It’s the idea of “giving yourself permission to make a mistake—as a way of accepting however you are feeling and acknowledging that other people feel or have felt this way before.”
I think these suggestions are a great start. I’d add that it’s also important to practice gratitude, humility and maintain a sense of humor, as well as manage your stress levels.
Brain Vitality Plus

Brain Vitality Plus

Next Generation Cognitive Enhancement & Recovery Matrix


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