You’ll have less stressMarcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock
We’re all pretty hard on ourselves, criticizing everything from our thighs to our parking job to our off-hand comments at work. And it’s not without consequences. “Harsh self-criticism activates the sympathetic nervous system—fight or flight—and elevates stress hormones such as cortisol in our bloodstream,” says Emma Seppala, PhD, science director the Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, and author of The Happiness Track. Too much cortisol can lead to problems ranging from weight gain to cardiovascular trouble. Enter self-compassion, which means treating yourself the way you’d treat a friend who’s going through a hard time—with support and understanding, instead of criticism. Studies have shown that using self-compassion techniques can reverse the negative trend of criticism and cortisol. “When you practice self-compassion, you reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which takes away the state of stress,” says Deborah Serani, PsyD, award-winning author of Living with Depression and a psychology professor at Adelphi University. “The more you stay with positive thoughts, the more dopamine surges, which floods your body with feel-good hormones.” How can you practice self-compassion? “Instead of saying things like, ‘How could I have done this? I’m such an idiot!’ you might say, ‘I had a moment of absent-mindedness and that’s okay—it could have happened to anyone,'” Dr. Seppala says. Learn 15 five-second strategies for shutting down stress in the moment.
You’ll lower your heart ratepoylock19/Shutterstock
In fight-or-flight mode, your heart pounds and your blood pressure spikes. “People are threatened when they’re struggling, so the natural threat response is to attack the problem—which in this case is yourself,” says Kristin Neff, PhD, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, author of Self-Compassion and a pioneer in the field. This instinctive mechanism is why we’re so apt to be hard on ourselves. But by shutting down your body’s fight-or-flight response with kindness, you’ll slow your heart rate and blood pressure, which helps your cardiovascular health. “When the heart rate is flexible, which means it can adjust to whatever’s happening, that’s a sign of not being in this fight or flight, so you aren’t so reactive and you’re able to actually adjust more,” Dr. Neff says. Here are 9 ways to stop the damage of negative self-talk.