During the pandemic, the stressors in life have become amplified, leaving many at risk for cardiovascular disease. Previous research has shown that chronic stress and other negative factors can impact cardiovascular health. But a new study shows how being kind to oneself may help lower these risks.
The research published in Health Psychology found that middle-aged women who practiced self-compassion had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, irrespective of other traditional risk factors such as cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure.
A lot of research has focused on studying how stress and other negative factors impact cardiovascular health, but this is one of the first to look at the association between positive psychological factors and cardiovascular disease. Researchers hope to show that self-compassion is more than just a passing fad.
Mindfulness practices such as mediation are gaining popularity among US adults who are exhausted from stressors at work and in their personal life. Many people have chosen to turn inward during the pandemic to help manage their moods and emotions.
The study consisted of 200 women between the ages of 45 and 67. All participants were required to complete a short survey asking 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 participants also had a diagnostic ultrasound of their carotid arteries – major vessels in the neck that carry the blood from the heart to the brain.
It was 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. These findings were linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke. These outcomes persisted even when researchers controlled for behaviors that may influence cardiovascular disease outcomes such as smoking, depressive symptoms, and physical activity.