It has already been shown many times that stress increases significantly the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. And for good reason, stress can constrict the small blood vessels that nourish the heart, and cause a stronger inflammation mechanism in women, who are even more sensitive to it. And if, conversely, the fact to be kind to yourself could limit this risk? This is according to researchers from the University of Pittsburgh (USA) who claim that women who practice self-compassion have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, regardless of other traditional risk factors.
Among these: hypertension, insulin resistance and high cholesterol. “Much research has focused on the study of the impact of stress and other negative factors on cardiovascular health, but the impact of positive psychological factors, such as self-compassion, is less known. “, explains Professor Rebecca Thurston who conducted the study. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, are indeed gaining popularity among people under stress at work or in their personal life and who wish to better manage their emotions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, stressors have amplified, especially for women.
Give each other kindness and tenderness in difficult times
Thus, “research carried out by various groups throughout the world demonstrates that women are particularly affected by this pandemic : they look after children and older relatives and are often the ones who also look after other adults, as women often make up a large proportion of the nursing staff. “say the researchers. The latter remind us that the practice of mindfulness and self-compassion (being indulgent with oneself) is a tool that psychologists often suggest to people facing chronic stress, as these techniques have been shown to be effective in managing anxiety, irritability and even mild depression.
But have these practices physiological effects on the body ? To find out, the scientific team followed 200 women aged 45 to 67 who agreed to fill out a questionnaire. The experiment asked them to rate how often they had negative feelings about themselves, for example if they often feel disappointed by their flaws perceived or if, conversely, they gave each other kindness and tenderness in the most difficult moments. The participants also received a standard diagnostic ultrasound of their carotid arteries, the main vessels in the neck that carry blood from the heart.r to the brain.
“Self-compassion is essential for our mental and physical health”
The results published in the journal Health Psychology show that women who scored higher on this self-compassion scale, who therefore felt more self-compassionate, had healthier arteries (thinner and with less plaque buildup) than those with lower self-compassion. Indicators linked to lower risk cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, strokes) years later. These results persisted by controlling for their behaviors and other psychological factors that may influence the results such as physical activity, smoking and depressive symptoms.
“These results underscore the importance of practicing kindness and compassion, especially to yourself. “, adds Professor Rebecca Thurston, before concluding: “We live in extremely stressful times, and our research suggests that self-compassion is essential for our mental and physical health. ” Indeed, stress is not a fatality and as indicated by the French Federation of Cardiology, there are several reflexes to adopt to reduce the impact on the heart. Start by practicing physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day and following a balanced diet. Without forgetting to make time for oneself and, of course, to adopt methods which make it possible to reduce its stress by exercises of visualization, breathing or laughter.