Be­ing kind to your­self has men­tal, phys­i­cal ben­e­fits

Business Standard - - HEALTH - PRESS TRUST OF IN­DIA

Tak­ing time for kind thoughts about your­self and loved ones has psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal ben­e­fits, a study has found.

Re­searchers from Univer­sity of Ex­eter and Univer­sity of Ox­ford in the UK found that tak­ing part in self­com­pas­sion ex­er­cises calms the heart rate, switch­ing off the body’s threat re­sponse.

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have shown that this threat re­sponse dam­ages the im­mune sys­tem.

Re­searchers believe the abil­ity to switch off this re­sponse may lower the risk of dis­ease.

In the study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Clin­i­cal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence, 135 healthy stu­dents were di­vided into five groups, and mem­bers of each group heard a dif­fer­ent set of au­dio in­struc­tions. The team took phys­i­cal mea­sure­ments of heart rate and sweat re­sponse, and asked par­tic­i­pants to re­port how they were feel­ing.

Ques­tions in­cluded how safe they felt, how likely they were to be kind to them­selves and how con­nected they felt to oth­ers.

The two groups whose in­struc­tions en­cour­aged them to be kind to them­selves not only re­ported feel­ing more self­com­pas­sion and con­nec­tion with oth­ers, but also showed a bod­ily re­sponse con­sis­tent with feel­ings of re­lax­ation and safety.

Their heart rates dropped and the vari­a­tion in length of time be­tween heart­beats — a healthy sign of a heart that can re­spond flex­i­bly to sit­u­a­tions. They also showed lower sweat re­sponse.

Mean­while, in­struc­tions that in­duced a crit­i­cal in­ner voice led to an in­creased heart rate and a higher sweat re­sponse — con­sis­tent with feel­ings of threat and dis­tress.

“These find­ings sug­gest that be­ing kind to one­self switches off the threat re­sponse and puts the body in a state of safety and re­lax­ation that is im­por­tant for re­gen­er­a­tion and heal­ing,” said Hans Kirschner, who con­ducted the re­search at Ex­eter. “By switch­ing off our threat re­sponse, we boost our im­mune sys­tems and give our­selves the best chance of heal­ing. We hope fu­ture re­search can use our method to in­ves­ti­gate this in peo­ple with men­tal health prob­lems such as re­cur­rent de­pres­sion,” Anke Karl, of the Univer­sity of Ex­eter.

The record­ings that en­cour­aged self-com­pas­sion were a “com­pas­sion­ate body scan” in which peo­ple were guided to at­tend to bod­ily sen­sa­tions with an at­ti­tude of in­ter­est and calm­ness; and a “self-fo­cused lov­ing kind­ness ex­er­cise” in which they di­rected kind­ness and sooth­ing thoughts to a loved one and them­selves.

The three other groups lis­tened to record­ings de­signed to in­duce a crit­i­cal in­ner voice, put them into a “pos­i­tive but com­pet­i­tive and self-en­hanc­ing mode”, or an emo­tion­ally neu­tral shop­ping sce­nario. All the au­dio record­ings were 11 min­utes long.

While peo­ple in both the self-com­pas­sion and pos­i­tive but com­pet­i­tive groups re­ported greater self-com­pas­sion and de­creased self-crit­i­cism, only the self-com­pas­sion groups showed the pos­i­tive bod­ily re­sponse.

The signs of this were re­duced sweat re­sponse and heart rate slowed by two to three beats per minute on aver­age, com­pared to the groups lis­ten­ing to crit­i­cal voice record­ings.

The self-kind­ness groups also showed in­creased hear rate vari­abil­ity — a sign of a healthy heart that is able to adapt to a range of sit­u­a­tions.

The signs were re­duced sweat re­sponse and heart rate slowed by two to three beats

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