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Self-Compassion: The Secret to Stress Reduction - WellStyles - Valley Schools

Self-Compassion: The Secret to Stress Reduction

Growing up, we learned our actions have consequences – “treat others the way you want to be treated.”

While an important lesson, when did we learn how we should treat ourselves? Recent research shows that being kind to ourselves and addressing our mistakes with grace may be the key to stress reduction.

What is Self-Compassion?

Compassion is having a sense of the suffering of others, accompanied by wishing and hoping for their relief. It naturally exists in all of us. For this reason, self-compassion practices may be easier to implement when compared to mindful and meditative techniques. Self-compassion redirects the compassion we have for others towards ourselves. An act of self-compassion is as simple as saying something kind and supportive to oneself (5).

These small acts of self-compassion may come with significant gains. Research done at a Canadian university looked at first-year college students and their stressors. These stressors included the challenges of school as well as feeling a sense of loneliness caused by being away from home. The study found students who reported higher levels of self-compassion were more energetic, optimistic, and motivated. These findings suggest self-compassion itself is an effective coping strategy to stress (2).

How Does Self-Compassion Affect Our Health?

Feeling safe and connected are basic human needs required for good health and survival. Self-compassion calms the heart rate and transitions the nervous system into “safe” mode. Along with this, self-compassion elicits the desire to connect with others and aids in added health benefits like reduced stress response and improved immune function.

Opposite of self-compassion is the negative reaction to adversity known as rumination. In this opposed state, rather than being kind, our thoughts are dark and judgmental. Physiologically, we see adverse effects with rumination, including an increase in heart rate, stress, and changes in the brain where fear and aggression are activated. By strengthening our response to challenges with self-compassion, we can feel both safe and connected in what will come next (3, 4).

Self-Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness

Greater life satisfaction and the ability to tolerate stress are both seen with the practice of self-compassion (1). We can strengthen our ability to be compassionate towards ourselves with these three components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. With self-kindness, we are supportive and soothing in our moments of suffering. Self-kindness may be talking to ourselves like we speak to a friend. In common humanity, we recognize that our experiences are shared – strengthening our likeliness to connect with others.

Finally, through mindfulness, we can be open and non-judgmental of the adversities we face daily. From making a mistake at work to missing your exit off the highway, life will always present itself with unexpected challenges. By considering self-compassion in the face of our day to day we are empowered with grace and non-judgment, which ultimately facilitates self-growth and resilience.

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1 – Bluth, K., Campo, R. A., Futch, W. S., & Gaylord, S. A. (2017). Age and gender differences in the associations of self-compassion and emotional well-being in a large adolescent sample. Journal of youth and adolescence, 46(4), 840-853.

2 – Gunnell, K. E., Mosewich, A. D., McEwen, C. E., Eklund, R. C., & Crocker, P. R. (2017). Don’t be so hard on yourself! Changes in self-compassion during the first year of university are associated with changes in well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 107, 43-48.

3 – Kirschner, H., Kuyken, W., Wright, K., Roberts, H., Brejcha, C., & Karl, A. (2019). Soothing your heart and feeling connected: A new experimental paradigm to study the benefits of self-compassion. Clinical Psychological Science, 7(3), 545-565.

4 – Mandell, D., Siegle, G. J., Shutt, L., Feldmiller, J., & Thase, M. E. (2014). Neural substrates of trait ruminations in depression. Journal of abnormal psychology, 123(1), 35.

5 – Pires, F. B., Lacerda, S. S., Balardin, J. B., Portes, B., Tobo, P. R., Barrichello, C. R., … & Kozasa, E. H. (2018). Self-compassion is associated with less stress and depression and greater attention and brain response to affective stimuli in women managers. BMC women’s health, 18(1), 1-7.

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