Self-Compassion Exercise Improves Physical and Mental Health

Self-compassion guided meditation and exercises can offer physical as well as psychological benefits, according to a new U.K. study.


Researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Oxford have discovered that self-compassion exercises can offer physical as well as psychological benefits by easing the body’s threat response, lowering heart rate, and boosting the immune system.

All you need to do is take some time to think good and kind thoughts about yourself and your loved ones.

Dr. Anke Karl, one of the researchers of the study, said; “Previous research has found that self-compassion was related to higher levels of well-being and better mental health, but we didn’t know why.”

The study helps us to understand the mechanism of being kind and gentle when things go wrong. Self-compassion could be beneficial when it comes to psychological treatments. By gaining control over the body’s threat response, we boost our immune system, promoting healing.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychological Science. Dr. Anke Karl and Dr. Hans Kirschner conducted the study at Exeter. They found that being kind cuts down the body’s threat response, putting the body in the state of relaxation, which is essential for repair, regeneration, and healing.

The body’ threat system is associated with increased heart rate and perspiration, secretion of a stress hormone called cortisol, and hyperactivity of an integral part of the brain called amygdala.

The study included 135 healthy students of the University of Exeter, who were divided into five different groups. Students of each group heard different sets of instructions. Researchers took physical data of heart rate and sweat response. At the same time, they were asked to report how they are feeling, how safe they are feeling, how likely they were kind and gentle, and how connected they felt with others.

The two groups, who were encouraged to be kind to themselves, reported feeling more self-compassionate and connected with others. Also, they showed a positive bodily response consistent with the feelings of safety and relaxation. Furthermore, their heart rates dropped, which is a healthy sign of responding flexibly to stressful situations. And not to forget, they showed a lower sweat response.

The other three groups, who listened to audio recordings of 11 minutes designed to encourage a critical inner voice, put them into a positive yet competitive and self-enhancing mode.

All the participants reported greater self-compassion and decreased self-criticism.

Willem Kuyken, co-author and professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, said, “These findings help us to further understand some of our clinical trials research findings, where we show that individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate.”

However, the researchers stressed that the study was actually conducted on healthy individuals, so the findings do not mean that patients suffering from depression would experience the same feeling from self-compassionate exercise.

The researchers also did not investigate one of the important features of self-compassion – the ability to repair mood or distress. More research is required to understand the effects of self-compassion exercise on these aspects.