A new study, published in ‘Health Psychology Journal’, has found that practicing self-compassion can lead to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to the research, middle-aged women who practice self-compassion are less likely to develop heart disease, irrespective of other traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and cholesterol levels.
“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 Dr. Rebecca Thurston, PhD, professor of psychiatry, clinical and translational science, epidemiology, and psychology at Pitt.
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, are gaining popularity among adults. Exhausted from a barrage of stressors at work and in their personal life, people increasingly choose to turn inward to help manage their moods and emotions.
Dr. Thurston and her colleagues sought to answer that question by enrolling almost 200 women between ages 45 and 67. “The women completed a short questionnaire asking them to rate how often they experience feelings of inadequacy, whether they often feel disappointed by their self-perceived flaws or if they grant themselves caring and tenderness during difficult life moments,” according to the statement.
The women also received a standard diagnostic ultrasound of their carotid arteries, major vessels in the neck that carry the blood from the heart to the brain.
Women who scored higher on the self-compassion scale had thinner carotid artery walls and less plaque build-up than women who scored lower on the scale. These indicators have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes.
The results persisted even when the researchers controlled for behaviors and other psychological factors that might influence cardiovascular disease outcomes, such as physical activity, smoking, and depressive symptoms.
“These findings underscore the importance of practicing kindness and compassion, particularly towards yourself. We are all living through extraordinarily stressful times, and our research suggests that self-compassion is essential for both our mental and physical health,” added Dr. Thurston.