Self-love is good for you, scientists discover
Why you should love yourself: People who are kind to themselves have lower heart rates and stronger immune systems which ‘give us the best chance of healing’
- Volunteers were asked to listen to audio clips that encouraged self-love
- After just 11 minutes, their heart rates went down and they sweated less
- Compared to those who were told to pay attention to their tough inner critic
The Greek storyteller Aesop famously said ‘no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted’.
And now research suggests a bit of self-love is even good for our health.
A study asked volunteers to listen to audio clips encouraging them to be compassionate towards themselves.
After just 11 minutes, the participants’ heart rates were significantly lower than those who paid attention to their tough inner critic.
A low heart rate helps put us in a state of relaxation that ‘gives us the best chance of healing’, the researchers said.
People who practice self-love have lower heart rates and stronger immune systems (stock)
The research was carried out by the universities of Exeter and Oxford.
It was led by Dr Anke Karl, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Exeter.
The researchers divided 135 university students into five groups, which each listened to a different set of instructions.
One of the groups was guided through a ‘compassionate body scan’, where they were told to pay attention to different sensations in their bodies with an attitude of interest and calm.
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The second group was given a ‘self-focused loving kindness exercise’ that involved them thinking positive thoughts about themselves and their loved ones.
The third and fourth groups either listened to recordings that triggered their critical inner voice or put them in a ‘positive but competitive and self-enhancing model’.
As a control, the final group was asked to imagine they were shopping in a ’emotionally neutral’ setting.
Results – published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science – revealed the hearts of those who heard the loving messages beat two-to-three times less a minute than those in the negative groups.
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It is already known that just cuddling a loved one improves the immune system by exposing it to more bacteria – protecting against infections.
And regular sex works muscles you wouldn’t otherwise use and increases blood flow.
Now a research team at the University of Minnesota has found those who have positive, lasting relationships in their early adulthood experience less anxiety after the age of 32.
When the heart beats too quickly, it becomes less efficient at pumping blood – and therefore oxygen – around the body.
Over time, the cells in the heart can even become starved of oxygen and die, which raises the risk of a heart attack.
The study also found that self-love led to greater variation between the participants’ heart beats, which is a sign the heart can adapt to different situations.
These volunteers also sweated less, with excessive perspiration being a sign of anxiety and stress.
On top of the physical benefits, those who heard positive instructions reported feeling more compassionate towards themselves and connected to others.
In contrast, those who were encouraged to think negatively about themselves had a raised heart rate and sweated more – both signs of feeling threatened and distressed.
Dr Karl said: ‘By switching off our threat response, we boost our immune systems and give ourselves the best chance of healing.’
Co-author Willem Kuyken, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford, believes the study’s findings add weight to past research that suggests self-love benefits those with mental-health disorders.
‘These findings help us to understand some of our clinical trials research findings,’ he said.
‘[Past research shows] individuals with recurrent depression benefit particularly from mindfulness-based cognitive therapy when they learn to become more self-compassionate.
‘My sense is for people prone to depression, meeting their negative thoughts and feelings with compassion is a radically different way – that these thoughts are not facts.
‘It introduces a different way of being and knowing that is quite transformative for many people.’
The researchers stress, however, their study was only carried out in healthy participants and it is therefore unclear whether a one-off self-love session would help those with depression.
It also did not directly look at how being kind to ourselves boosts our mood or reduces distress.
The scientists therefore plan to study the response of people with recurring depression after completing similar exercises.
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