A recent University of Pittsburgh study revealed that self-compassion reduces your chances of developing heart problems. Now, science confirms that the New Age idea of loving yourself benefits your health and may save your life.
Many of us have a hard time with self-acceptance, either due to upbringing, genetics, or societal conditioning. We learned to compete and climb the never-ending ladder to success, but we can never feel fulfilled with external achievements. Jobs, relationships, and achievements will all fade, so the only lasting happiness lies within our souls.
This, in essence, makes up the foundation of most spiritual teachings. While science can’t prove that loving yourself brings lasting fulfillment, it does provide evidence of better health.
Researchers found that middle-aged women who practiced self-compassion had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Even if participants had other risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, or insulin resistance, this held true.
The findings by University of Pittsburgh researchers first appeared in Health Psychology.
“A lot of research has been focused on studying how stress and other negative factors may impact cardiovascular health, but the impact of positive psychological factors, such as self-compassion, is far less known,” said Rebecca Thurston, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, clinical and translational science, epidemiology, and psychology at Pitt.
Self-Compassion and Mindfulness Can Lower Anxiety Levels
Due to the increasing stress of modern life, many people have turned to mindfulness techniques like meditation for inner peace. Not only does meditation help calm the mind, it can also increase awareness of troubling emotions by paying more attention to one’s inner world.
The pandemic amplified the stress that already existed due to the complexity of modern life. In particular, women have been dealing with extra stressors for the past couple of years.
Research from around the world indicates this, as women often are caretakers for children and older relatives. They also make up most of the U.S. nursing workforce, which has been under incredible strain due to the pandemic.
However, psychologists recommend practicing mindfulness and self-compassion to patients battling chronic stress. Meditation and self-love can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, stress, and in some cases, depression.
The psychological effects of self-compassion and mindfulness are well-documented. However, researchers wanted to know if these practices can impact the body.
Self-Compassion Lowers Heart Disease Risk, Says University of Pittsburgh Study
Thurston and her colleagues wanted to find answers to that question in this study. So, they recruited nearly 200 women between the ages of 45 and 67 to research the effects of self-compassion.
The participants filled out a short questionnaire asking them to rate how frequently they felt inadequate or disappointed by their self-perceived flaws. They also asked whether they practice self-love and care during life’s challenging events.
Finally, researchers performed a standard diagnostic ultrasound of the women’s carotid arteries—these significant vessels in the neck transport blood from the heart to the brain.
Researchers found that the more self-compassionate women had thinner carotid arteries and less plaque buildup than their counterparts. These health markers link to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, like heart attacks and strokes, years in the future.
The team also accounted for other factors contributing to cardiovascular diseases, such as exercise, smoking habits, and depression. However, the results remained the same despite other lifestyle factors influencing the study.