People are rarely as kind to themselves as they are to those around them. The self-criticism that you throw at yourself involves ideas and words that you’d never say to a friend. You know all your weaknesses and flaws, and therefore you tend to be the hardest on yourself. When that’s allowed to run unchecked into self-criticism, it becomes a dangerous cycle. Thus, you can improve your health by treating yourself compassionately.
Self-compassion involves three components. The first is self-kindness, which is understanding yourself and considering yourself worthy of concern and care. The second is common humanity, or the knowledge that you aren’t alone and that everyone makes mistakes as part of being human. Finally, there’s mindfulness, which is the act of staying present while maintaining awareness of feelings and experiences.
All of these components, combined, are incredibly good for you! Here are four ways that being kind to yourself helps improve your health.
1. It Decreases Stress To Improve Your Health Physically
Being kind to yourself is all-around excellent for mental well-being. However, this isn’t to say that there are no physical benefits! Research has shown that of the many positive effects of self-kindness, stress relief is significant. When you’re kind to yourself, you don’t trap your brain in a loop of constantly stressful self-criticism. This allows you to learn from difficult situations and past mistakes without getting bogged down by them.
But indeed, stress is only one tiny aspect of overall health. Wrong! Lower stress levels play a huge role in physical well-being. Here are some of the many, many ways that better stress management helps your body’s health:
Research shows that stress can be a driving factor for increased blood pressure levels. Learning to manage stress is often advisable for reducing this problem. High blood pressure is linked to a variety of different illnesses. Studies are pretty clear about its adverse effects on mortality and health. These risks include cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, dementia, and neurodegenerative disorders, and kidney disease.
· Better Immunity
When stress is present, the human body is designed to focus on survival. There are many functions involved with this, mostly tied to cortisol, the stress hormone. This hormone does what it can to keep your system ready for action. One of the ways it does this is by reducing inflammation to increase immunity. Unfortunately, when stress is chronic, your body develops an impaired response to this, say studies. This makes inflammation worse all around. On top of that, stress reduces the number of lymphocytes in the body. Lymphocytes are white blood cells designed to fight infections, and without them, you get sick much more quickly.
· Better Digestion
Research has long indicated links between poor stress management and poor digestion. Being constantly stressed out can be bad for the positive bacteria in your gut. You’re at risk for many gastrointestinal disorders under these conditions. You might have also noticed that heightened levels of nervousness or anxiety tend to give you stomach discomfort. That’s a mild, short-term version of the long-term damage that stress can cause!
· Reduced Muscle Tension
You probably know that being stressed out makes you tense your muscles. You can imagine, then, how much that happens in the background when you’re constantly stressed out! While this isn’t the worst effect of continual stress, research has shown it to lead to long-term pain problems. This can even develop into chronic pain, which only worsens your anxiety even more!
2. Improve Your Health Mentally
Self-compassion has been noted to have loads of positive effects on mental health. It’s a logical conclusion to draw, and it’s supported by research. You’re less likely to develop anxiety, depression, or symptoms. You’re also more likely to enjoy higher levels of personal life satisfaction. In other words, you’re happier all around, and your mental health soars as a result.
This is because being kind to yourself invokes a lot of healthy thinking patterns and breaks old, toxic thought cycles. Studies show that these forms of positive thinking from self-compassion allow for:
· Reduced Self-Criticism
Self-criticism isn’t always a bad thing. You can use it to correct yourself and set yourself on the right path. It’s an excellent way to hold yourself accountable and commit yourself to improvement – but only in balance. And, unfortunately, most people’s self-criticism is unhealthy and unbalanced. That’s why self-compassion here is so important. It allows you to be reasonable with the critique you give yourself. You’re also more likely to genuinely improve and grow if you tone down the harsh self-critique and pepper it with compassion. If you’re going to judge yourself, you have to do it reasonably!
· Higher Courage In Risk Of Failure
Lots of people are afraid of failure. Being kind to yourself can help to mitigate that. It’s a good idea to calculate risk and reward well before diving into a venture. But at the same time, you have to accept that failure will always be a possibility with all efforts to grow. There’s nothing wrong with that, and being so afraid of failure that you refuse to try can stagnate you. Being able to step outside of your comfort zone is great for your mental health. You’ll become more confident in your abilities and less anxious in daily activities.
· Better Acceptance Of Self
Tons of people struggle with self-acceptance. When you’re kind to yourself, that effort becomes less of a struggle. You can love all your different parts and features if you look at yourself with continual acceptance and understanding through compassion. Being self-compassionate also improves your capacity to rely on yourself for intrinsic validation. You’ll be more focused on making yourself happy than on pleasing others to meet a norm or expectation.
Improving health by eliminating the most common unhealthy risk factors works well. But there’s only so far that this goes! A lot of times, you need to be committed to maintaining positive health throughout your life. This commitment is also crucial in keeping the risk mentioned above factors away from you, especially if they involve vices.
This is why motivation is such an essential part of staying healthy. The trick is finding the correct type of motivation. Extrinsic forms, such as the opinions and praise of others, can work, but they’re not the best continual source of inspiration. When you rely too much on external motivation, you don’t have the conviction to continue on your own. You’ll also start to bend and conform to what others want of you as you seek repeated validation.
On the other hand, intrinsic motivation drives you to want to improve yourself for your own sake. You want to grow, overcome struggles, and better yourself because you care about yourself. Research has shown that this is beneficial for even the most complex personal hurdles. This contradicts the false concept that self-compassion is likely to be used as a way to excuse your negative behavior.
Your health can flourish when you have the right blend of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation coupled with being kind to yourself. You’ll want to be healthy because you think you deserve to be. You’ll want to live long and happily because you like being you.
This motivation from self-compassion further helps by:
- Reducing the risk of unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance abuse and gambling
- Increasing healthy goal-setting, plan development, and engagement in health-related ambitions
- Reducing the reliance on external rewards for health-consciousness, focusing on health for health’s sake instead
- Forwarding long-term commitment towards maintaining various health-related goals
- Increasing the desire to challenge yourself to greater, healthier heights
4. Improve Your Health With Mindful Behavior
Mindfulness is a powerful tool that allows you to engage with and acknowledge emotions without being swept up by them. It’s essential to stay grounded, avoid negative thought patterns, and develop a healthy way of reflecting on and processing information. It’s also a key component in self-compassion, meaning you can’t be kind to yourself without it.
Interestingly, the kinder you are to yourself, the more mindful you become. This creates a self-perpetuating, ever-replenishing cycle that research indicates is ideal for positive thinking. Most commonly, mindfulness on its own is known for its mental health benefits. For example, studies say it’s good for reducing anxiety, and other research has shown its improvement in body satisfaction. The American Psychological Association also states that it is effective in treating depression.
But in addition to all of that, mindfulness is also an excellent tool for physical health. That’s even more reason to be kind to yourself! Here are those physical health benefits:
· Stronger Immune Function
Believe it or not, mindfulness can make your immune system much more robust. It’s incredible what the brain can do when it’s in that mindful state! Research shows it can replenish T-cells in those who are immuno-compromised, and further studies indicate faster wound healing.
· Better Cognition
Studies indicate numerous cognitive benefits stemming from mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. Even short-term training in these skills does the trick! You’ll enjoy better working memory, reduced fatigue for mental clarity, improved visuospatial processing, longer attention spans, and high executive functioning. Other research suggests these effects have even more positive implications by reducing the severity of neurodegeneration.
· Improve Your Heart Health
With heart disease being a significant risk for many in the modern world, mindfulness may be a way to combat that. Studies show that it can be an ideal way for those with heart disease to manage their symptoms and improve future prognosis. Those with issues like blood pressure can also benefit since research shows that mindfulness helps by lowering stress.
· Reduced Cell Aging
Cell aging is a natural process, but accelerated rates increase the risk of various diseases and mortality. Studies have found that mindfulness meditation can lengthen the size of telomeres. Telomeres are a kind of protein crucial in managing cell age, and protecting chromosomes. Even if mindfulness itself doesn’t do this, self-compassion, in general, has been linked in some ways to telomere lengthening. Research in this area is still growing, but it’s promising overall!
Self-compassion is a fantastic way to take control of your health, both physically and mentally. Life is full of ups and downs, and ultimately, learning to be kind to yourself throughout your hardships is a powerful thing! The fact that it can improve your health and well-being is merely a fantastic bonus on top of that.