A little self-kindness may do more than simply warm your heart.
Given the added pressures numerous women are facing today—such as caring for children and older relatives during the ongoing pandemic, along with the fact that the majority of nurses in the country are females—a study team at the University of Pittsburgh examined if practicing mindfulness and self-compassion could offer physical health benefits.
After all, mental health professionals recommend these stress-reducing techniques since both methods have been shown to help manage anxiety, irritability, and mild depression. In order to test this theory, the researchers gathered nearly 200 women between the ages of 45 and 67 and instructed them to complete a questionnaire which, inquired about whether or not they feel inadequate, feel disappointed by their perceived flaws, and if they give themselves TLC during difficult times. Plus, the volunteers were given a standard diagnostic ultrasound of their carotid arteries (blood vessels that deliver blood through the neck to the brain).
According to the results, which were published in the journal Health Psychology, the females who rated highest on the self-compassion scale had thinner carotid artery walls and less plaque buildup—two conditions linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in the future—compared to the women with lower scores of self-kindness. Interestingly enough, these findings persisted regardless of other common lifestyle and psychological factors associated with heart disease, such as smoking, depressive symptoms, and minimal exercise.
"I was not surprised in that we know psychological factors are linked to cardiovascular health," lead study author Rebecca Thurston, PhD, professor of psychiatry, clinical and translational science, epidemiology, and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, tells Eat This, Not That! "However, I was surprised that self-compassion appeared to be more strongly related to cardiovascular disease risk than other known psychological risk factors, such as depression or anxiety. Further, this is the first study to link self-compassion to actual direct measures of the vasculature."
While Dr. Thurston and her team did not evaluate any specific feel-good techniques practiced by the female participants, she points out that she and her fellow scientists "were investigating self-compassion as a characteristic of the individual in this study."
As for the future, Dr. Thurston would welcome the opportunity to conduct further research on this topic. "I would like to help people enhance their self-compassion, as well as examine the change in self-compassion on cardiovascular health."
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