14 Feb Silence premenstrual stress with this loving act
- Research from the Universities of Exeter and Oxford shows self-compassion shuts down stress
- Being kind to yourself reduce self-criticism and negativity
- Self-compassion boosts the immune system, which thwarts illness and improves healing
Notice that during your premenstrual Week 4 (the six days leading up to your period), you’re more easily stressed, for example, when encountering unexpected traffic when you’re already late, being stuck in a noisy or crowded room, or after being given yet another tight deadline from your boss or teacher?
Though frustrating, this pre-period stress is normal. That’s because plunging estrogen on these premenstrual days drags down levels of mood-managing chemicals in the brain (such as serotonin), which can make you less flexible, patient and optimistic. The result is that you’re more susceptible to stressing out over issues big and small.
The good news? Researchers have found an easy fix: Think loving thoughts about yourself.
The self-compassion fix
When you’re feeling pushed to the brink, take a moment to pause, think of someone close to your heart (such as a friend, family member or mentor) and direct positive wishes toward that person. This switches your brain’s gears from stressful thoughts to loving ones. Then, once your brain is warmed up, direct those or similar positive wishes toward yourself.
Or, alternatively, focus on your body and direct kind and compassionate thoughts toward your physical sensations, starting from the top of your head and going down to your feet. For example, notice the warmth of your cheeks, appreciate the strength of your shoulder and arm muscles and marvel at your lungs as you inhale and exhale.
In a 2019 study of 135 students from the Universities of Exeter and Oxford, two groups of participants selected to tried these easy self-compassion exercises felt more relaxed, were less self-critical and experienced an uptick in positivity.(1)
What makes self-compassion a stress-buster?
One key reason is because loving thoughts directed at yourself stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” part of your nervous system), which tells the body to release tension and enter a calm state where you feel secure and connected with others, the study authors report in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
They add that being kind to yourself increases heart rate variability, which is a sign that you’re able to adapt to a range of situations, making you more flexible and resilient.
On top of this, self-compassion nixes rumination and negativity that can lead to being self-critical, helping you become more patient with and forgiving of yourself.
Less stress = better healing
Some more good news? When you take steps to halt stress, such as with a self-compassion exercise, it helps your immune system work better, says lead study author, Anke Karl, Ph.D.
“By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing.”(2)
That’s because hormones that are released while under stress (such as cortisol) reduce your immune system’s capabilities.
By stemming stress, you keep your body’s immune system humming, which makes it better able to ward off colds, flu and infection and rebound from illness.
Less stress? Happier? Healthier? Sounds like a good reason to start showering yourself with loving kindness today.
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(1) “Soothing Your Heart and Feeling Connected: A New Experimental Paradigm to Study the Benefits of Self-Compassion,” Clinical Psychological Science, February 6, 2019, journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2167702618812438
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