January 5, 2022
Make Self Compassion Your New Year’s Resolution
Granting yourself grace is good for your midlife heart.
By Selene Yeager
It’s that time of year again, when people are inclined to take a hard look at themselves and make resolutions to change things they don’t like. Which is okay. There’s always room for us to make improvements in our lives. Before you pull out the mental whip and start flogging yourself for your past “failures,” however, take a moment to pat yourself on the back for what you’ve done well and show yourself compassion for where you feel you’ve fallen short. Your heart will thank you, according to new research.
The study published in Health Psychology found that midlife women who practiced self-compassion had lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, regardless of other traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and cholesterol levels, all of which can become less than optimal during the menopausal transition.
For the study, researchers surveyed 195 women between the ages of 45 and 67 and asked 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. 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.
The scientists found that women who scored higher on the self-compassion scale had thinner carotid artery walls and less plaque buildup than those with lower self-compassion. That means they have a lower long term risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes. The results persisted even when the researchers controlled for behaviors and other psychological factors that might influence their cardiovascular disease risk, such as physical activity, smoking, and depressive symptoms.
“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, PhD., professor of psychiatry, clinical and translational science, epidemiology, and psychology at Pitt in a press release.
“These findings underscore the importance of practicing kindness and compassion, particularly toward yourself,” Thurston said in the release. “We are all living through extraordinarily stressful times, and our research suggests that self-compassion is essential for both our mental and our physical health.”
Self compassion is a topic that comes up a lot on the Hit Play Not Pause podcast. Too often women going through the menopausal transition beat themselves up for the changes they’re experiencing, which can add to the stress of the situation, setting up a vicious cycle.
As board certified health and wellness coach Lisa Hesse talked about on episode 61 of Hit Play Not Pause: “Lifequakes,” Identity Crises & Finding Solid Ground, self compassion doesn’t mean giving up or not trying to make changes in your life. It just means showing yourself some kindness in the process—being in your own corner rather than your opponent.
“It’s acknowledging that this is hard. It’s saying, ‘this is kicking my ass.’ and giving yourself a little tenderness. In that moment, there’s a neurotransmitter shift that happens in the brain,” Hesse explains. “Self compassion lowers cortisol [the stress hormone] and when we lower cortisol, the neurochemicals that are going to help us be able to manage this challenge increase.”
So go ahead and make your resolutions. But first remind yourself that sh*t is hard right now, and show yourself some love for making it through, carrying on, and kicking ass as best you can. Happy New Year. And stay feisty.