Scientists and doctors have long said there is a very close link between a person’s ability to deal with stress and their long-term health.
Usually we are tempted to blame this on external factors – a difficult relationship, pressures at work or pure rage at the inadequacies of public transport.
Yet for the first time a group of researchers in New York have discovered that a large part of this stress can be put down to “self-compassion” or, as they put it, whether you are willing to “cut yourself some slack”.
The team from Brandeis University suggested that a capacity for self-forgiveness would lead people not to blame themselves for stress factors beyond their control, ultimately translating into a longer and happier life.
To test this, they carried out an experiment involving 41 healthy young adults who were asked to endure an unspecified “standard laboratory stressor” (listening to Justin Bieber, we speculate), and have their stress levels measured before and after over two days.
Ahead of the study, each participant was surveyed on their responses to statements such as “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”.
On the first day, the scientists said, those with higher self-compassion “exhibited significantly lower stress responses… even when controlling for self-esteem, depressive symptoms, demographic factors, and distress”.
Even more surprising was the second day’s results – the test subjects with low self-compassion were found to exhibit higher “baseline” stress levels (measured before they were subjected to something annoying) than they had the day before.
This suggested that not only do people lacking self-forgiveness get more stressed in the first place, but they also hold onto that stress for longer – a trait which puts them at risk of long term health problems.
Stress levels were measured by testing concentrations of an inflammatory agent known to be linked to stress, interleukin-6 (IL-6).
“These findings suggest that self-compassion may serve as a protective factor against stress-induced inflammation and inflammation-related disease,” the study said. Psychological stress has been linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s if it is allowed to get out of control.
The team’s findings were published in the March edition of the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity.