Being easier on yourself can improve your health

This article originally appeared on the Telegraph, April 10, 2014

It has long been believed that an individual’s ability to deal with stress has an impact on their long-term health.

Now, new research has proven this hypothesis to be true, suggesting that learning to adequately deal with stress could add years to your life.

In other words, a key component to a long and prosperous life is, according to the researchers at Brandeis University, “cut yourself some slack” and have some “self-compassion

A person with high levels of self-compassion most likely will not blame themselves for stress beyond their control, and may be more willing to move on from an argument, rather than dwelling on it, and allowing it to bother them.

The researchers say that an individual’s ability to forgive themselves for the stress caused by events that are outside their control will result in a happier, longer, and more prosperous existence.

The discovery was made after testing the stress levels of 41 individuals over two days, whilst they underwent laboratory stress tests.

The researchers asked the individuals to rank their levels of compassion, by asking the extent to which they agreed with statements like: “I try to be understanding and patient toward aspects of my personality I do not like” and “I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies”.

Scientists discovered after the first day that those with higher self-compassion “exhibited significantly lower stress responses… even when controlling for self-esteem, depressive symptoms, demographic factors, and distress”.

More surprisingly, however, was that on the second day, scientists discovered the participants with low self-compassion exhibited higher stress levels than they had the previous day before they were subjected to the stress test.

This therefore suggests that people who are unable to forgive themselves get more stressed than individuals who forgive themselves, and they hold on to the stress for a longer period of time, which puts them at risk of long-term health issues.

Indeed, psychological stress – if allowed to get out of control – has been linked to a number of health issues, including: Alzheimer’s, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

The participants stress levels were measured by testing concentrations of an inflammatory agent that is known to be linked to stress called interleukin-6 (IL-6).

The paper was authored by Psychology Professor Nicolas Rohleder, with several postdoctoral fellows and graduate students. Their findings were published in the March edition of the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity.


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