Practising self-compassion in distressing times can boost mental health, new research shows.
Self-compassion involves thinking about the self with kindness, sympathy and compassion, without evaluating or judging the self.
Being more self-compassionate is an excellent way of dealing with the current situation.
People who are more compassionate towards themselves experience less stress, a previous study has shown.
Self-compassion was also linked by that study to more:
- feeling alive,
- and energy.
Mr Jeffrey Kim, the first author of the current study, said:
“Our research provides evidence to support the positive impact that self-compassion can have on the brain and body when dealing with rejection, disappointment and setback.”
The study included 40 people who were asked to be either compassionate or critical about themselves before their brains were scanned.
Mr Kim explained the results:
“Using brain imaging techniques, we found that when faced with rejection or disappointment, practicing compassion helped reduce activation within brain regions associated with threat, such as the amygdala.
In contrast, people who were critical of themselves due to these disappointments had heightened activation within the brain’s neural networks associated with threat and pain.”
People in the study followed a two-week course of Compassionate Mind Training.
Tests afterwards revealed its beneficial effect, said Mr Kim:
“Cultivating compassion resulted in an increased parasympathetic response, which is very good—having low HRV [heart-rate variability] or low parasympathetic activation is not ideal for physical and mental health.
Further, people who began the trial with lower resting HRV also engaged more in the intervention, possibly as they derived more benefits, both self-reported and physiologically, from engaging in compassion.
So, if someone is critical of themselves for not being able to ‘hold it all together’ during the pandemic, then engaging in compassionate practice will be beneficial to their mental health.”
You can listen to and follow the compassionate self exercise used in the study (it takes 15 minutes) here:
You might also like to try a writing exercise.
Think about a recent negative experience and write about it.
Crucially, though, you need to write about it while being compassionate towards yourself.
In other words: don’t be too critical and recognise that everyone makes mistakes.
In addition, a practical approach to boosting self-compassion is explained in my ebook “Accept Yourself“.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Kim et al., 2020).