Self-compassion is more powerful than you might think
Practicing self-care for some people might look like taking a much-needed mental health day or finally scheduling that doctor’s appointment you put off. But there’s one thing you might be overlooking that could make a huge difference in your everyday life – being kind to yourself. In fact, experts agree that self-compassion goes a long way in terms of your overall wellbeing. Here are the surprising benefits you may not know that will convince you to be nicer to yourself.
You’ll have less stress
We’re all pretty hard on ourselves, criticising everything from our parking effort to our off-hand comments at work. And it’s not without consequences. “Harsh self-criticism activates the sympathetic nervous system – fight or flight – and elevates stress hormones such as cortisol in our bloodstream,” says Emma Seppala, PhD, science director the Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of The Happiness Track. Too much cortisol can lead to problems ranging from weight gain to cardiovascular trouble. Enter self-compassion, which means treating yourself the way you’d treat a friend who’s going through a hard time – with support and understanding, instead of criticism. Some studies have found that using self-compassion techniques can reverse the negative trend of criticism and cortisol. “When you practice self-compassion, you reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which takes away the state of stress,” says Deborah Serani, PsyD, award-winning author of Living with Depression and a psychology professor at Adelphi University. “The more you stay with positive thoughts, the more dopamine surges, which floods your body with feel-good hormones.” How can you practice self-compassion? “Instead of saying things like, ‘How could I have done this? I’m such an idiot!’ you might say, ‘I had a moment of absent-mindedness and that’s okay – it could have happened to anyone,’” Dr Seppala says. Plus, more research also shows people with more self-compassion not only handle stress better, but they also spend less time dwelling on past stressful events.
You’ll lower your heart rate
In fight-or-flight mode, your heart pounds and your blood pressure spikes. “People are threatened when they’re struggling, so the natural threat response is to attack the problem – which in this case is yourself,” says Kristin Neff, PhD, author of Self-Compassion and a pioneer in the field. This instinctive mechanism is why we’re so apt to be hard on ourselves. But by shutting down your body’s fight-or-flight response with kindness, you’ll slow your heart rate and blood pressure, which helps your cardiovascular health. “When the heart rate is flexible, which means it can adjust to whatever’s happening, that’s a sign of not being in this fight or flight, so you aren’t so reactive and you’re able to actually adjust more,” Dr Neff says.