Compassion & Chronic Stress: How Being More Empathetic Can Reduce Stress

Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but when it happens too often, chronic stress can lead to serious health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, mood disorders, and insomnia.1 While many of us already have our go-to ways of reducing stress, whether it’s signing up for that yoga class or getting a massage, did you know that compassion can also help? Explore how empathy and compassion can help ease the mind and body when dealing with chronic stress. 

Why Compassion Is So Important 

Related to empathy and altruism, compassion is the sympathetic concern for the suffering of others accompanied with a desire to alleviate that suffering. Sometimes we feel this concern for ourselves, resulting in self-compassion. 

Numerous studies have suggested that compassion is an evolved part of human nature, vital to good health and even to the very survival of our species.2 Charles Darwin noted the importance of compassion in The Descent of Man, arguing that sympathy was a stronger instinct than self-interest. He explained that it would spread through natural selection, that “the most sympathetic members would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”3

But compassion isn’t just important for humanity as a whole. On an individual level, compassion can have significant positive effects on our personal health. 

Benefits of Compassion 

If you’ve ever volunteered for a cause you care about, helped an elderly person cross the street, or even let someone go in front of you at the grocery store, you probably didn’t realize you were doing something positive for your physical and mental health. Compassionate acts feel good too, which means that once you start, you’ll probably be motivated to continue. Brain imaging studies show that the pleasure centers in the brain are just as active when someone commits a compassionate act (e.g. donating money to charity) as when someone is compassionate towards us.4 

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Beyond feeling good, some other benefits of compassion include:

  • Stronger immune system5
  • Lower risk of high blood pressure, or hypertension6
  • Reduced symptoms of depression7
  • Longevity8
Interestingly, researchers have even found that compassion also makes us more attractive to mates.9 This is yet another reason why Darwin’s theory holds up.   

Does Compassion Cure Chronic Stress? 

While practicing mindfulness, adhering to a healthy diet, and getting sufficient sleep are all effective ways to reduce stress, adding compassion to your daily routine can be a powerful boost. According to research by Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneering self-compassion researcher, author, and teacher, the more self-compassionate versus self-critical that people were, the lower their cortisol levels and the more responsive they were to stress when faced with challenging situations.10 Being more compassionate and forgiving of ourselves also helps us be more forgiving of others, which can help reduce our stress as well.11 

Here are some easy ways to integrate self-compassion into your life:

  • Practice positive self-talk
  • Explore self-compassion through journaling, such as writing to yourself as you would write to a beloved friend12
  • Unplug from social media, which can feed stress and anxiety
  • Give yourself permission to spend time doing things you truly enjoy
  • Find a supportive community you can call on in times of need
If chronic stress is still affecting your life, Brillia is another option to consider adding to your toolkit. A safe and impactful non-prescription medication that is available without a prescription or official diagnosis, Brillia helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress without harsh chemicals, harmful side effects, or contraindications. Brillia works best when combined with healthier lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy foods, limiting screen time, sleeping well, and practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Find out more about how Brillia works.

References: 1https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder, 2https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/compassionate_mind_healthy_body, 3https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_species, 4https://www.pnas.org/content/103/42/15623.short, 5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695992/, 6https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32347444, 7https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s43076-020-00018-2, 8http://ccare.stanford.edu/psychology-today/the-best-kept-secret-to-longevity-love/, 9https://www.apa.org/monitor/nov03/compassion, 10https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/stress_and_self_compassion, 11https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it, 12https://self-compassion.org/exercise-3-exploring-self-compassion-writing/
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