How self-compassion improves the brain and body during times of distress

In times of distress, practicing compassion could result in beneficial effects for the brain and body, according to a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

For a group of researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, their findings demonstrated evidence of just how beneficial self-compassion is during instances of setbacks, like that experienced in the wake of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

Using self-regulatory styles like self-criticism and self-reassurance, researchers examined the neural responses of the participants during times of distress. Thereafter, the participants took part in Compassionate Mind Training (CMT) for two weeks, having their heart-rate variability (HRV) assessed before, during, and after training.

HRV is an indicator of parasympathetic response.

What the research group found was that during times of setbacks and distress, self-compassion decreased activation in the brain correlated with perceived threats. Distress increased activation in neural networks linked to pain and perceived threats, the study also found.

With regard to HRV, self-compassion surged parasympathetic response, a positive effect for physical and mental well-being.

“Critically, cultivating compassion was able to shift a subset of clinically-at risk participants to one of increased parasympathetic response,” researchers concluded in the findings.

“Further, those who began the trial with lower resting HRV also engaged more in the intervention, possibly as they derived more benefits, both self-report and physiologically, from engagement in compassion.”

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