Self-compassion exercises make people feel relaxed and safe, new research finds.
Being more accepting of the self helps lower the heart-rate and turns off the body’s threat response.
One exercise entails thinking about yourself and a loved one with kindness and soothing thoughts.
Another exercise is a “compassionate body scan”, which involves paying attention to different parts of the body with an attitude of loving kindness.
First author, Dr Hans Kirschner, said:
“These findings suggest that being kind to oneself switches off the threat response and puts the body in a state of safety and relaxation that is important for regeneration and healing.”
The study involved 135 people who were split into five groups — each were given different instructions.
The results showed that those encouraged to be kind to themselves had a lower heart rate and decreased threat response.
They also reported feeling more connected to others and self-compassionate.
Dr Anke Karl, study co-author, said:
“Previous research has found that self-compassion was related to higher levels of wellbeing and better mental health, but we didn’t know why.
Our study is helping us understand the mechanism of how being kind to yourself when things go wrong could be beneficial in psychological treatments.
By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing.
We hope future research can use our method to investigate this in people with mental health problems such as recurrent depression.”
One comparison group was encouraged to focus on their critical inner voice.
They began to sweat more and their heart rate went up.
Professor Willem Kuyken, study co-author, said:
“…individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate.
My sense is that for people prone to depression, meeting their negative thoughts and feelings with compassion is a radically different way — that these thoughts are not facts.
It introduces a different way of being and knowing that is quite transformative for many people.”
The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science (Kirschner et al., 2019).